SANTA ANA — Rams cornerback Darryl Henley, charged with operating a cross-country drug ring from his Brea home, is the victim of an elaborate frame-up by a former Rams cheerleader and her parents, his attorney said Friday as the trial began.
Attorney Roger Cossack told jurors in his opening statements that the prosecution's key witness, cheerleader Tracy Ann Donaho, will falsely accuse the star defensive player of masterminding a cocaine-trafficking scheme. Cossack said Donaho, who pleaded guilty in 1993 to conspiracy to transport cocaine, cannot be trusted because she is testifying to avoid prison.
"There is a conspiracy in this case--a nasty, nasty one," Cossack said. "The conspiracy was formed in the Donaho household to frame Darryl Henley and save their daughter."
But prosecutors painted a sinister portrait of Henley, 28, in their opening statements, alleging he seduced the then-19-year-old Donaho with his celebrity status, expensive trips and money into transporting cocaine packages to Atlanta and Memphis, Tenn. Prosecutors alleged Henley paid Donaho more than $1,000 to carry suitcases of what he said was "real estate money," which actually was cocaine.
Drug enforcement agents arrested Donaho, carrying 12 kilos of cocaine at the Atlanta airport, in July, 1993. A drug enforcement agent testified Friday that the street value of 12 kilos is approximately $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Deirdre Z. Eliot said Donaho "was hooked," adding: "She would do anything for Darryl Henley, the football star. This was much more exciting than her job at the local pancake house."
Henley and Donaho are among eight people indicted by a federal grand jury in connection with the drug ring. Four of those men are co-defendants with Henley, also charged with federal drug violations. Each is represented by a different attorney.
Prosecutors said Henley functioned as a "front man" for the drug ring, guaranteeing the supplier returns on the cocaine with his hefty Rams paychecks. A network of phone bills, tolls, hotel records, wire money transfers and car rental receipts will connect Henley with the other defendants, prosecutors said.
"These people left paper trails all over the place," Eliot told the jury.
But Cossack said Henley is only friends with his co-defendants and never participated in a drug conspiracy. Cossack said Henley's signature was forged on certain receipts, although he didn't specify by whom.
Henley is being framed by Donaho's father, Terry Donaho, a former police officer, Cossack said. Under his direction, Tracy Ann Donaho embellished her story several times, inventing charges against Henley in hopes of winning a greatly reduced sentence for her crime, Cossack said.
Cossack said Terry Donaho told authorities: "If we have to give up Darryl Henley, we will."
Cossack portrayed Henley as a model citizen, a student athlete who maintained a "B" average while an All-American football player for UCLA. Cossack said Henley was "shocked" when he learned Tracy had been arrested for transporting cocaine.
"Darryl Henley is a young man who but for this has the world by the tail," Cossack said.
If convicted, Henley could be sentenced to life in prison and fined up to $4 million.
Tracy Ann Donaho is expected to testify early next week.