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Friday, February 25, 2005
OU spirit group member injured in fracas

Associated Press

NORMAN, Okla. -- Former Nebraska football player Darren DeLone will be tried on a charge that he assaulted a University of Oklahoma spirit squad member before the Cornhuskers' game at Oklahoma last season, a judge decided in a preliminary hearing Friday.

Cleveland County District Judge Michael Hetherington Jr. entered an innocent plea for DeLone and set an April 4 pre-trial hearing.

Four witnesses testified during the hearing, including Adam Merritt, the University of Oklahoma spirit group member who was injured in the Nov. 13 incident. DeLone didn't testify.

Merritt, 19, testified that he temporarily lost consciousness after he was hit and woke up to discover he was missing teeth.

"I looked up only to see a hand coming toward my face and I woke up against a brick wall with a very sore head and back and no teeth in my mouth," Merritt said.

One of Merritt's front teeth was knocked out, and another front tooth was broken in the Nov. 13 incident, according to testimony from Merritt and endodontist Steven Powell, who examined him two days after the game.

Merritt is a member of the Oklahoma Ruf/Neks spirit group that leads cheers and accompanies the Sooner Schooner covered wagon on Owen Field. They shoot ceremonial shotguns without live ammunition and sometimes heckle opposing teams.

Another Ruf/Neks member, Zachary Decker, testified that a Nebraska player wearing number 67 made a threatening gesture before the incident by drawing his thumb across his throat, and the same player charged and hit Merritt. DeLone wore number 67.

"He was running fast and right at us, pretty much a sprint," Decker said.

The player hit Merritt with an open fist, pushed him against a brick wall, walked away cussing and then resumed his drills, Decker testified.

Merritt said that immediately before he was hit, he was talking to two other members of the Ruf/Neks spirit group and that he thought they were joking about a player coming at him. Both freshmen said they were standing in a designated area in the northeast corner of Memorial Stadium intended to keep them safe from contact with players.

Decker testified that the Ruf/Neks discourage members from heckling the opposing team, and he did not hear anyone heckle Nebraska players prior to the incident.

"They don't want those types of incidents happening," Decker said. "That makes us look bad."

Defense attorney Garvin Isaacs asked Merritt if his injuries could have been the result of an accident since the players were practicing at a high speed on grass dampened by the rain.

"As I woke up I realized that what had happened was not an accident," Merritt said. "There is no way that I can see this being an accident."

Isaacs also questioned Merritt and Decker about their testimony that they had seen the hands of the attacker. Isaacs claimed that DeLone, 23, had been -- and always does -- wear gloves when he is on the field.

A University of Oklahoma police detective, John Bishop, also testified about questioning DeLone after the game. Isaacs introduced as evidence the written statement DeLone gave Bishop in which the football player claimed he was doing regular drills when someone accidentally got hurt.

"There was no intention to do so," DeLone wrote in the statement.

DeLone, an offensive lineman listed at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds, finished his senior season with the Cornhuskers last year. The next hearing in his case was scheduled for April 4, when he can decide whether he wants a jury trial. At that point, a trial date may be set.

The felony charge against him carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.