DALLAS FINALLY GOT ITS TRIAL OF THE CENTURY. It was a glorious farce, full of football stars, rogue cops, undercover agents posing as hit men, topless dancers arriving for court appearances in demure below-the-knee dresses, and angry lawyers debating whether African American men’s eyes are naturally bloodshot or only get that way after a night of drinking and drug use. At the center of the proceedings, of course, was Cowboys wide receiver and Super Bowl hero Michael Irvin, who came to court each day in sunglasses, alligator shoes, and tailored suits, one of which was lavender. “At least the trial was held in the summer,” a member of his entourage whispered, “so we didn’t have to worry about him showing up in that damned mink coat.”
It was Irvin’s full-length mink coat, which he wore along with a diamond stud earring for his grand jury appearance last spring, that let everybody know this wasn’t just a simple drug possession case; it was going to resemble a Las Vegas floor show. Courtroom employees oohed and ahhed at Irvin and the coat. One woman asked him to autograph her Bible. Irvin, who calls himself the Playmaker and parks his black Mercedes in the no-parking zone at the Cowboys’ training facility, basked in the attention. He considered himself untouchable—and why shouldn’t he?
On the night of March 4, police officers from the Dallas suburb of Irving didn’t arrest Irvin when they found him in a hotel room celebrating his thirtieth birthday with his buddy Alfredo Roberts (a former Cowboys lineman) and two topless dancers, Angela Beck and Jasmine Nabwangu. Party favors included 10.3 grams of cocaine and more than an ounce of marijuana, assorted drug paraphernalia, and sex toys. Although a glass cigar holder containing cocaine residue was found in a small bag belonging to Irvin, the officers arrested only Beck, a doe-eyed brunette who described herself as a self-employed model. According to later testimony, Beck took the rap and claimed that all the drugs were hers because Irvin had pulled her aside while police officers were still outside the room and promised he would treat her like a “princess.” Then Irvin greeted the officers and asked one of them, “Do you know who I am?” “I know who you are,” the officer replied.
To many people’s surprise, Mike Gillett, a lead prosecutor with the Dallas County district attorney’s office, decided that Irvin, the married father of two, needed to pay for his sordid night out. Gillett got felony indictments against Irvin and the two dancers. (Roberts went free because he could not be directly linked to any evidence.) If Irvin had pleaded guilty then, he no doubt would have walked away with a probated sentence and a four-game suspension by the NFL as a first-time violator of the league’s drug policy. The case would have been closed and Irvin could have gone on with his superstar life, albeit with fewer endorsements. But Irvin believed (and, according to one rumor that swept through town, was told by team owner Jerry Jones) that Cowboys don’t get convicted of crimes in Dallas. He wanted to plead not guilty, and what made Irvin such a hoot to watch on the field—his ability to talk trash to defensive backs as he escaped from their clutches, to spike the ball after scoring a touchdown and then throw off his helmet so the television cameras could get a close-up—was exactly what was going to make his trial so much fun to watch.
The national news media arrived to pronounce its outrage over Irvin. William Bennett, the former Secretary of Education and self-appointed national defender of values, went so far as to contend that Irvin and the Cowboys were “hurting this country’s morale.” To longtime Cowboys watchers, the fact that Irvin had become a symbol of a moral meltdown was a joke. Granted, he was an amazing player, one of the hardest-working members of the team and a delightful interview who could always be counted on for a good quote. But he was also well known as a scoundrel who had had his share of paternity suits and run-ins with women. After practices and games, he regularly strolled into the exclusive Men’s Club—which a disgusted Gillett called “a high-dog strip joint”—and paid white strippers who looked like former high school cheerleaders to dance for him. He often took those strippers to a hotel room or to what was known as the White House, a home near the team’s training facility where Cowboys players took women other than their wives or girlfriends.
But no one thought he had a drug problem—“Michael just got the drugs for the girls,” one acquaintance said—until three days after his grand jury appearance, when one of his running buddies agreed to let a Dallas television station put a hidden video camera in his car to film Irvin purchasing cocaine. The “friend,” a chubby and slightly pathetic hanger-on at the Cowboys’ training facility named Dennis Pedini, said he wanted to expose Irvin to help him get his life back in order. No doubt Pedini was also thrilled that he got some money and national television exposure on Hard Copy.
Then, tossing a barrel of lighter fluid on the fire, Dallas police chief Ben Click called a press conference during the middle of jury selection to announce that Dallas police officer Johnnie Hernandez, a five-year police veteran with an array of honors, had been arrested for solicitation of capital murder after giving $2,960 to an undercover agent from the Drug Enforcement Agency as a down payment for a “hit” on Irvin. Hernandez was the live-in boyfriend of Rachelle Smith, another brunette dancer from the Men’s Club, who had spent a few evenings in hotel rooms with Irvin and Angela Beck. In a secret appearance before the grand jury, Smith had ratted on Irvin, saying he told her the day after Beck’s arrest that the drugs in that hotel room were his. She also said Beck had told her she nearly had