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JAMES LOFTON'S TRYING TIMES : Behind Athletic Ability and Those Good Deeds Lurks the Awful Deed and a Question: Why?

June 21, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Time hangs ominously in an upstairs room of the Brown County Courthouse, where the next word spoken can mean 10 years. Mini-cams are trained on the accused. Visitors squirm on hardwood benches.

James Lofton sits erect and waits.

This is a rape case. He's the defendant.

Oh no, this just can't be happening.

Maybe to some hard-shelled mercenary who's been bribed, flattered, recruited, fought over, pandered to, paid off under the table and passed along in class until he can't tell the Ten Commandments from a laundry list, but not to James Lofton.

This is the best and the brightest: B+ student in engineering at Stanford; Wisconsin chairman of the Mental Health Assn.; Packer United Way spokesman; volunteer worker for Special Olympics, the March of Dimes, the Boys Club of Milwaukee, the Urban League; member of the board of directors of the National Football League Players Assn., the Milwaukee Ballet.

This is also the second such accusation made against him in 27 months.

Behind him sit relatives, former Packer teammates and the little group from Iron Mountain, Mich., the family of the woman Lofton is accused of assaulting.

During recesses, the Packers walk 20 feet across the hall for the rape trial of another teammate, Mossy Cade. It is a singular week in the history of Green Bay, and if there is never another like it, no one will complain.

The verdict is handed to Judge Alexander Grant, a homey-looking man with a round face and a forelock that falls over his forehead the way a kid's does. The mini-cams zoom in on Lofton. Whatever he's feeling, it's betrayed only by a single lick of his lips.

Behind him, his wife, Beverly, "is just about to lose it.

"I knew in my heart what the verdict should have been, but when you're relying on 12 people you don't know . . . " she says later.

"He could have been convicted and taken away from me right at that minute. All I kept thinking was, 'Gosh, I didn't let him say goodby to our son, like a real goodby, this morning.'

"And, 'If he's convicted and they don't let him out on bond, would I just be standing here in my shoes, wondering where to go?' "

Grant says he'll announce the verdict and then ask the jury a question. Lofton's lawyer, Stephen Glynn, confident until that moment, says his heart feels as if it has fallen into his stomach.

James Lofton sits erect, unflinching, waiting to hear how the rest of his life will come out.

THE RIDDLE

James had a beautiful personality. Let me put it this way, of all the young men I coached, if there's anyone I would want my sons to pattern themselves after in terms of their attitude towards people, towards athletics, toward academics, toward life in general, it would be James Lofton. --RON FOWLKES, Lofton's football coach at L.A. Washington High Me. Gary Hart. Jim Bakker. Richard Nixon. Ronald Reagan. Hey, I'm in there with some good guys. --JAMES LOFTON Lofton was acquitted.

And in the previous case, resulting from an accusation by an exotic dancer in a Milwaukee bar that Lofton and teammate Eddie Lee Ivery had sexually assaulted her in her dressing room, the Milwaukee district attorney's office refused to file sex-related charges.

Before the law, Lofton is clear.

He is now a Raider, having been traded to the Los Angeles team a month before the trial, and the world is spread before him anew.

But still, how could it have happened?

Putting the best face on it, why would this man--gifted, generous, admired, married, humiliated by a prior accusation--meet a woman in Green Bay's busiest downtown night spot, engage in a public flirtation and wind up with her performing oral sex on him in a stairwell?

Lofton concedes all this. The only issue was whether the woman was forced, as she claimed, or consented, as he claimed.

Whether he was having a problem at being in Green Bay; or of having to grow up and settle down; or of realizing, where previously there was a sense of invincibility, that there are limits to the athlete, there does seem to have been some kind of rebellion going on in his life.

That's the short answer. What follows is the long answer.

YOUNG JAMES

This is the bittersweet saga of the family of Emmanuel Michael Lofton Sr., a career Army man turned bank operations manager, industrious and personable, blessed and burdened.

Violet, Emmanuel's wife and James' mother, left the family when James was 8 and he didn't see her again until he was 19.

James' big brother, Michael, drifted through life and last year, at 38, was bludgeoned to death while sleeping overnight in a park in southwest Los Angeles. James says the reason that Michael drifted was "probably drugs."

Emmanuel was born in Texas and attended Prairie View State College where he played football, basketball and track. Like James, he was a long jumper. Emmanuel fought in World War II, stayed in the Army until 1964, then retired from the service and moved his four children to Los Angeles. Violet didn't accompany them. Emmanuel doesn't like talking about it.

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