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Wright Won't Be Charged

Lack of evidence is cited for not proceeding with the rape case against the USC cornerback.

April 21, 2005|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

USC cornerback Eric Wright, who was arrested last month on suspicion of rape, will not be charged with sex- or drug-related offenses because of lack of evidence, a Los Angeles County Superior Court commissioner said during a court appearance by Wright on Wednesday.

Wright, 19, was arrested March 26 after a female USC student alleged that he sexually assaulted her at his apartment near campus. He was free on $100,000 bail and was suspended indefinitely from the team pending law enforcement and university investigations.

Commissioner Dennis E. Mulcahy excused Wright from the courtroom after announcing that the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office would not file charges.

Wright declined to comment after the hearing. The redshirt sophomore from San Francisco was reportedly on campus a few hours later.

Carmen Trutanich, one of Wright's attorneys, said outside the court building that Wright had been attending classes since his arrest and was looking forward to rejoining teammates. Trutanich also represented Hershel Dennis when the USC tailback came under investigation for an alleged sexual assault last summer. Dennis was never arrested or charged.

A few hours after the court appearance, Trutanich spoke briefly with Coach Pete Carroll in Heritage Hall to determine Wright's "status and timeline," Trutanich said. Before that conversation, Carroll told reporters that Wright remained suspended pending the outcome of the university's investigation.

He declined to speculate about Wright's future in the program.

"The judicial process is different than the university's process," Carroll said. "The school will be very strong about their stance and they'll take their time doing it."

Michael L. Jackson, USC's vice president of student affairs, said in a statement that USC's investigation "is a confidential process and the standard of proof is different from the criminal courts. If what is alleged to have taken place occurred and is proven according to USC's standard, Mr. Wright faces serious consequences for his actions."

According to the district attorney's charge evaluation worksheet, prosecutors were considering charges of forcible oral copulation, forcible sexual penetration and rape. The worksheet said the 18-year-old student who made the allegations against Wright was intoxicated on the night she met Wright at a party. When the alleged victim left the party, Wright put a blue pill he said was Ecstasy in the woman's mouth, the report said.

The woman tested positive for the drug, and police found 136 Ecstasy tablets in Wright's room, the report said. Wright made no statements to police, the report said.

Christi Frey, a deputy district attorney who reviewed the case, wrote that there was insufficient evidence to file sexual assault charges and referred the case for possible filing of drug charges.

According to the charge evaluation worksheet prepared by Deputy Dist. Atty. Patricia Wilkinson, there was insufficient evidence to bring charges for possession of drugs or possession of drugs for sale or delivery because a necessary witness was "uncooperative and unwilling to testify because to do so would be injurious to their mental health," the report said.

"Without this testimony, there is insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the drugs belong to the defendant in light of the fact that the apartment in which they were found is occupied by the defendant and another individual," the report said.

Jane Robison, a spokesperson for the district attorney's office, said police could present the drug investigation again if the witness changed her mind.

"For now, it's done," Robison said.

According to USC's website, "use, possession or dissemination of illegal drugs or drug-related paraphernalia in the university community or at university sponsored activities," is a violation of the school's policy on alcohol and other drugs. Suspension and expulsion are among the possible punishments.

USC players said they were happy to hear that Wright had not been charged with a crime.

"Hopefully, we can embrace him back to the team," junior tailback LenDale White said.

Defensive lineman Sedrick Ellis said he was "glad our friend got off and can continue with what he was trying to do with his life."

In regard to the drugs that were found in Wright's apartment, Ellis said, "I don't think the team is involved in any way with that stuff."

Quarterback Matt Leinart said Wright's situation was "a learning experience for all of us to know you need to be careful."

Asked if he were concerned about the perception of his program, Carroll said he was "totally disappointed," and added, "I don't like any part of this."

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