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Charges Unlikely in USC Assault Inquiry

The case focusing on running back Dennis is 'effectively dead,' source says. Insufficient evidence is cited.

September 09, 2004|Richard Winton and Gary Klein | Times Staff Writers

A sexual assault investigation involving USC running back Hershel Dennis and other players is not expected to result in criminal charges, law enforcement sources said Wednesday, citing a lack of evidence.

"This case is effectively dead," said one source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation remains open. "Barring a major change of evidence, there isn't going to be a prosecution."

The Los Angeles Police Department began investigating three weeks ago after a woman contacted the LAPD to report that she had been sexually assaulted early on Aug. 16. The incident allegedly occurred at the Cardinal Gardens housing complex near campus, where the defending national champion football team had been staying during summer training camp.

According to law enforcement sources, Dennis has been considered the focus of the investigation, which the LAPD said could also involve other players. It is not clear what role Dennis played in the alleged incident.

Detectives sought to question Dennis and at least three other players, but all declined to be interviewed on the advice of attorneys, the sources said. No one was arrested.

The LAPD is expected to officially conclude its investigation this month and forward the case to the district attorney's office, which would decide whether to file charges. But law enforcement sources, while declining to discuss specifics, said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

Dennis' attorney, Carmen Trutanich, said Wednesday evening, "We were always confident that when the true facts were brought to light, that the lack of wrongdoing on Hershel's part would be clear to all."

Dennis, 20, was removed from practice Aug. 17 and suspended indefinitely by Coach Pete Carroll for violating team rules. Dennis, a junior who started every game and rushed for 661 yards last season, missed the season opener against Virginia Tech and also will miss Saturday's game against Colorado State.

But Dennis said Tuesday that coaches had told him he would be reinstated next week, before the Trojans play at Brigham Young on Sept. 18.

At least 14 people associated with the football team were present at some point during the gathering in an apartment that Dennis shared with several other players, law enforcement sources said. Marijuana and alcohol were being used at the gathering, the sources said.

One USC player, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said he was playing dominoes with others in the apartment when Dennis arrived with a woman Dennis had previously dated. The player said Dennis and the woman went into another room for part of the evening.

After the woman contacted police Aug. 16, she was examined at a Santa Monica hospital. Detectives sent samples from the examination to a crime laboratory for testing but have not revealed the results. Detectives and investigators also removed carpet pieces from a bedroom, according to law enforcement sources.

In an Aug. 19 interview, Dennis' mother, Rose Teofilo, said her son told her that he had done nothing wrong. Teofilo said Dennis told her that a woman he had dated was at the complex a few hours after the Trojans' Aug. 15 evening scrimmage at the Coliseum, and that the woman had been drinking. Teofilo said Dennis told her the woman had vomited and that he had set her down to sleep on a bed.

Law enforcement sources said the case was complicated by the fact that the woman was heavily intoxicated at the time of the alleged assault and had trouble recalling precisely what happened.

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