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Decision based on evidence, victims' wishes

DENVER -- The state's top prosecutor decided against criminal charges Tuesday in nine alleged sexual assaults involving Colorado football players, citing concerns about evidence and the reluctance of some women to pursue their cases.

Attorney General Ken Salazar said the decision from a special
task force formed in late February was unanimous.

Salazar, tapped as a special prosecutor by Gov. Bill Owens, said the investigation remains open and other potential charges
concerning Colorado's embattled football program haven't been ruled
out.

Gary Klatt, whose son, Joel, is the team's quarterback, said the
decision helps dispel some of the cloud over the program. He and
other players' parents have voiced concerns the allegations are
unjustly tarnishing innocent athletes and coaches.

Klatt, however, said he was saddened by the scandal's effects.
"I don't think anybody becomes a winner," he said.

Patty Klopfenstein, the mother of tight end Joel Klopfenstein,
said Salazar's decision was no surprise.

"We knew they wouldn't find anything. There's no story,
really," she said.

Salazar, the university and a Board of Regents commission are all investigating allegations the football program uses sex and
booze to lure recruits to the Boulder campus.

At least eight women have accused football players or recruits
of rape since 1997, though no criminal charges have been filed.
Salazar spokesman Ken Lane said the ninth allegation surfaced
during the investigation, but he declined to elaborate.

Three of the women have sued the school, saying its failure to
rein in athletes broke federal gender equity law and contributed to
their rapes in 2001. They are seeking unspecified damages and
sweeping changes at the school, which has already put stricter
limits on football recruiting.

Attorneys for one of the women, Lisa Simpson, said Salazar's
office "has never prosecuted a sexual assault case so we never
expected that sexual assault would be the focus of their
prosecution."

"We are gratified that they're pursuing potential criminal
matters in the way the football program has been run at CU," the
attorneys said in a statement. Simpson has agreed to have her name
used in public.

Victims' advocates were disappointed but said sexual assault
cases are difficult to prove.

Janine D'Anniballe, executive director of the Boulder rape
crisis center Moving to End Sexual Assault, said her bigger
concerns are public perception and the chilling effect on victims
who have watched what some of the women in the recruiting scandal
have gone through. Simpson, for example, was forced to turn over
her diary to university lawyers.

"An unwillingness on the part of victims to come forward
doesn't mean sexual misconduct and sexual assault did not occur,"
she said.

The scandal erupted in January when a deposition by Boulder
County prosecutor Mary Keenan in one of the lawsuits was made
public. Keenan said prosecutors met with university officials in
1998 and advised them to clamp down on partying by recruits and
student-hosts.

Keenan also said she believed the football program uses sex and
parties as recruiting tools. School officials have disputed
Keenan's version of the meeting, but the scandal has not died down.

Football coach Gary Barnett was put on leave over comments
attributed to him in two of the cases. One involved Katie Hnida,
who told Sports Illustrated she was raped by a Colorado teammate in
2000.

Owens and a spokesman for the regents' panel declined comment on
Salazar's decision. University President Elizabeth Hoffman said she
appreciated the "timely manner" in which Salazar completed his
work.

"We have great respect for the difficult work being done by the
special prosecutor," she said in a written statement.

State Sen. Peter Groff, D-Denver, who had suggested the
Colorado Legislature investigate the university, said he doesn't think
Salazar's decision will affect the work of the regents' panel. He
said he wasn't surprised by the lack of charges.

Keenan "has expressed no real love" for the football program,
but hasn't filed any sexual assault charges, Groff said.

"If she couldn't come up with anything, I wouldn't expect
(Salazar) to come up with anything," Groff said.

The regents' panel must finish its work by Friday. Its report
will be discussed at a special regents meeting May 19 in Boulder.