Monday, February 9, 2009
Conyers arrested at Indiana State
By Elizabeth Merrill ESPN.com
James Conyers, the man who served five years in prison for stalking Olympian Sheila Taormina, was arrested and removed from Indiana State University on Sunday night following reports that he had been stalking an ISU women's basketball player.
Conyers walked into the student commons area, perched himself so that he could look at Sycamores center Kelsie Cooley and was promptly arrested for criminal trespassing.
A week ago, Conyers, 41, allegedly called the 19-year-old Cooley, said he was an ex-ISU jock and asked to meet her. In a report filed by campus police, the conversation was called "amicable." But that night, Cooley slept with a chair propped against her door for protection.
Conyers' name circulated through the national media last summer, when Taormina, a pentathlete, made her final bid for the Olympics. Taormina told her story of how Conyers stalked her for nearly a year, threatened to rape her and followed her from Michigan to a training facility in Florida.
He was also known around the Indiana State campus after a 2000 incident in which he allegedly stalked a volleyball player. Conyers was ordered to stay away from campus for sending what the university said were "unwanted, inappropriate letters." When he was arrested Sunday night, he was carrying an ISU student directory.
Bill Mercier, ISU's chief of police, said Conyers is being held in the Vigo County jail on $50,000 bond. Mercier said the county prosecutor is considering whether he will add a stalking charge.
"We weren't fooling around with this guy," Mercier said. "We knew this guy; we knew of his history; and we knew he was around."
Mercier said Conyers' initial conversations with his alleged victims are not threatening. In an interview with ESPN.com last year, Taormina said that Conyers initially called her in 2002 to ask about swimming lessons. When Conyers was released in January 2008, Taormina said she was wary but hadn't heard from him.
There are other similarities between Cooley and Taormina. Both athletes are approachable and outgoing. Cooley was the homecoming queen at Beavercreek High School in Dayton, Ohio. In a story on the Sycamores' Web site, Cooley is quoted as saying she was also voted class clown.
When the ISU coaching staff overheard Cooley talking about the call from Conyers on Wednesday, coach Jim Wiedie took it seriously. He contacted campus police, and the athletic department distributed a mug shot of Conyers. When the team arrived in Normal, Ill., last weekend for a game against Illinois State, the Sycamores' bus was met with police escorts.
On Sunday night, some fellow ISU athletes spotted Conyers and called campus police.
"There was something in that conversation that first night that spooked her," said Cooley's father, Johnny. "He's still a threat. ... But it could've been a lot worse."
"It's gut-wrenching," Johnny Cooley added. "Because when they're your babies, you can have 100 percent control. You can take care of them. When they go to college, it leaves a hole in your heart and you're basically turning them over, and you hope you're putting them in the right environment.
"Indiana State should be commended. They took appropriate action, almost immediate action."
Conyers' attorney, George Chedraue, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment Monday.
Elizabeth Merrill is a senior writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at email@example.com.