Advertisement

While Henley Plays, Four Waiting in Jail : Jurisprudence: Attorneys for others in cocaine case claim Ram cornerback given special treatment.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With cornerback Darryl Henley having rejoined the Rams, federal authorities and attorneys for other defendants in Henley’s cocaine-trafficking case are miffed that he is resuming his career while others accused of lesser roles in the crimes remain in prison.

“My client is not facing a minimum-mandatory 10-year sentence (as Henley is) and yet he’s in the Metropolitan Detention Center in Los Angeles,” said Joan P. Freeman, a deputy federal public defender whose client is accused of extorting money from Henley and faces a maximum term of three to four years in prison. “I’m having some difficulty with this.”

Of the eight defendants who have been charged in the combined cases of extortion and conspiracy to distribute cocaine, only Henley and two others--one of them his uncle, Rex Henley--were allowed to make bail when they were arraigned. Darryl Henley is accused of masterminding a drug ring that distributed large amounts of cocaine throughout the country.

Tracy Donaho, a former Ram cheerleader who was named in a federal indictment as a courier for the drugs, was among those given an opportunity to make bail, but has since pleaded guilty and is expected to testify on behalf of the government against Henley and the others.

Advertisement

Another of the accused--James Timothy Saenz, charged in the Henley extortion attempt--spent 10 months in federal prison. He was released last week when bail was finally set at$10,000. The four others must wait until Jan. 10 for their trials to begin.

“There has been a real disparity in treatment in this case,” said one defense attorney in the case who asked that his name not be used. “Darryl Henley is clearly a celebrity who has been in the limelight, and although nobody is saying it, his case has been handled differently.”

Henley’s attorney defended his client’s treatment in the case, saying he poses no risk to others and is not likely to flee.

However, federal prosecutors argued strenuously last December before U.S. Magistrate Ronald W. Rose that Henley should be kept in custody until his trial because he might disappear and is a danger to society.

Advertisement

Last December, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Henley, Donaho and three others as participants in a conspiracy to transfer two shipments of cocaine from Henley’s home in Brea to drop-off points in Atlanta and Memphis, using the 20-year-old Donaho as a courier.

Three men, including one of those charged in the trafficking conspiracy, have also been charged with threatening Henley’s life in an attempt to extort $360,000 they say Henley owed them for cocaine they delivered to him. All seven are scheduled to be tried together.

Federal agents began investigating Henley in July of 1993 after Donaho had paid cash for a one-way ticket from Ontario International Airport to Atlanta. Such a purchase is taken as an indication that a passenger might be carrying drugs, officials say.

When she landed, agents allegedly discovered 26 pounds of cocaine in a bag she had checked. Donaho later said Henley had recruited her.

Advertisement

Two months later, Henley--who was aware of the criminal investigation--went to police to report an extortion attempt. Henley said he was threatened at gunpoint at the Rams’ practice facility in Anaheim and that three men had stolen his car. One of the men who allegedly threatened him was found shot to death in West Covina a few hours after the confrontation.

After investigating Henley’s extortion claims and arresting several suspects, authorities focused on his alleged involvement in the cocaine ring.

Last December, after pleading innocent to the charges against him, Henley was released on $200,000 bail. Bail for his uncle, who was indicted last month as part of the cocaine trafficking conspiracy, was set at $500,000.

Responding to the charges of disparate treatment for Darryl Henley, his attorney said the football player is an excellent candidate for release.

Advertisement

“I don’t know anything about the prior records about anybody else, but Darryl Henley has never been in trouble in all his life,” Roger Cossack said. “He has been active in charity work, and for the past 10 months has been terrific in terms of making court appearances and keeping in touch with pretrial services.”

A condition of Darryl Henley’s bail is that he not travel outside the Central District of California, which includes seven Southern California counties from San Luis Obispo to Riverside.

Cossack said he will ask for a modification of the bail conditions, allowing Henley to travel with the team.

Asst. U.S. Atty. Deirdre Z. Eliot, one of two federal prosecutors handling the Henley case, declined to comment.

Advertisement

Eric E. Sterling, president of the Criminal Justice Police Foundation in Washington, said: “What’s unusual is that bail was set in an amount that was achievable. Generally, in a case (involving drug trafficking), there is a presumption that a person should be jailed. If an indictment alleges that (Henley) is the central figure in this conspiracy, the fact bail has been set that he can make is highly unusual.”

One federal law enforcement official believes the others in the case who remain in prison have good reason to be unhappy, adding: “If I was one of the other defendants, I think I’d be pretty upset watching Darryl Henley play football on Sundays.”


Advertisement