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WRIGHT AVOIDS CHARGES LACK OF EVIDENCE IN USC CORNERBACK'S SEXUAL-ASSAULT CASE.

Byline: Scott Wolf Staff Writer

The district attorney's office on Wednesday decided not to file sexual-assault or drug-possession charges against USC cornerback Eric Wright.

Wright, 19, faced three sexual-assault charges, according to the district attorney: rape, forcible oral copulation and forcible sexual penetration by a foreign object. The district attorney cited lack of sufficient evidence for rejecting the charges.

The district attorney also said it found 136 Ecstasy pills in Wright's apartment and the alleged victim's urine tested positive for Ecstasy. Police said the pills matched the victim's description of the pill she said Wright gave her.

If convicted of the drug charges, Wright would have faced a maximum of four years in jail. The district attorney said the victim ``is uncooperative and unwilling to testify,'' and without that testimony, there was insufficient evidence to prove the drugs belonged to Wright.

``The material witness did not want to testify,'' district attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison said. ``She didn't want to come forward on the drug charges. Since the sex charges were rejected, we needed her testimony to connect him to the drugs.

``It's done. It's closed. It's rejected.''

The district attorney noted without a witness, it would be difficult to prove the drugs belonged to Wright beyond a reasonable doubt because he shares his apartment with a roommate, USC tailback Desmond Reed.

If police convince the victim to testify, drug charges could be filed.

Wright declined comment after Wednesday's hearing, but his problems are far from over, at least as far as his USC career is concerned. He faces possible punishment and expulsion from USC by an investigation being conducted by the university's office of judicial affairs and community standards.

``This is a confidential process, and the standard of proof is different from the criminal courts,'' said Michael Jackson, vice president for student affairs. ``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.''

Wright's attorney, Carmen Trutanich, met briefly Wednesday afternoon with USC coach Pete Carroll. He's looking forward to defending Wright in any university hearing. Trutanich said Carroll told him that the university - and not the football program - was in control of Wright's status.

``I would look forward to a reinstatement,'' Trutanich said. ``He's got an education to complete and football season to look forward to.''

Asked about the large amount of Ecstasy found in Wright's room, Trutanich said: ``That's something the university needs to deal with, and, if need be, I'll deal with it in that time.''

The university traditionally takes a firm stance in student-conduct hearings. Last year, offensive tackle Winston Justice was suspended for the fall semester after flashing a pellet gun at another student. In 2001, cornerback Marcell Allmond was suspended for a semester and missed the season after getting into several altercations with students.

It is anticipated Wright's lawyers could argue that the alleged victim brought the drugs or that Wright didn't know where they came from, but it would be up to a university panel to determine who possessed the drugs.

``The school will be very strong about their stance,'' Carroll said. ``They will take their time. We'll wait and see. In the meantime, Eric remains on suspension.''

Carroll also addressed the negative image for USC after having drugs found in a player's apartment.

``Any attention in this light is totally disappointing,'' he said. ``I don't like any part of this.''

Although Wright hasn't commented, his friends said he was mostly upbeat.

``I talked to him Monday and he said, 'Whatever happens happens,''' said former USC linebacker Salo Faraimo, who lives in an apartment across from Wright. ``He seemed positive this week.''

USC tailback LenDale White said he hoped White would be reinstated to the team.

``For the second time this year, nobody came up with any charges,'' White said, referring to tailback Hershel Dennis, who was the focus of a sexual-assault investigation last fall that resulted in no charges being filed. ``If (Wright) didn't do anything, he didn't do anything. Hopefully, we can bring him back some way.

``I know he's been embarrassed by this and learned his lesson.''

The district attorney's reports released Wednesday confirmed that Wright met the 18-year-old USC student at a fraternity party March 25. The victim was intoxicated and, when she left the party, said Wright placed a blue pill in her mouth which he told her was Ecstasy.

The victim then said Wright raped her in his apartment, several blocks away.

``Everybody's got to walk on ice around here,'' said cornerback Terrell Thomas, one of Wright's closest friends. ``When you're at USC, you can feel you're bigger than everybody else. I feel people are out to get us.''

Cornerback Justin Wyatt agreed that USC players receive more scrutiny because of their higher profile following back-to-back national titles.

``We are under a magnifying glass, and everything we do is blown up to the fullest extent,'' Wyatt said. ``I'm pretty sure the team wants him to come back. It definitely would help us out (at cornerback) since our depth is thin.''

Wright, who is from San Francisco, started four games last season and was expected to be a starter before his suspension.

Scott Wolf, (818) 713-3607

scott.wolf(at)dailynews.com

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 21, 2005
Words:883
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