After The Fall

One night in 2014, a Dallas high school basketball star punched his friend, leading to his death. That much is clear. Then came an aggressive detective, witnesses with changing stories and an altered autopsy report. That night was only the beginning.

It's Dec. 4, and the Ranger College men's basketball team is visiting Cedar Valley, just outside of Dallas. Midway through the second half, a woman walks into the gym with her young son and daughter, all of them carrying signs.

Justice for Troy Causey.

Johnathan Turner #44 should be in jail, not on the court!! Justice for Troy.

The woman's sign declares that her son, Troy Causey, killed at 18, "deserves justice."

As Tammy Simpson leads her children slowly up the sideline, the gym falls silent. The players stop and look around, confused. Two referees confer at midcourt while a third stands with the basketball in his hand. No one is sure what to do.

On the visitors bench, Johnathan Turner, No. 44, sees Simpson and her children, then struggles to find somewhere else to look -- at the floor, the scoreboard, his teammates, anywhere.

They walk the length of the court, then back. After about 90 seconds, someone in a suit asks Simpson to leave. Without responding, she takes the children back outside.

Turner's teammates, who have played with him for only a few months, pat him on the shoulder and the leg. He looks as if he wants to say something, but he can't figure out what.

He did kill her son. He swears it was an accident. Causey was his best friend, after all. They went to rival Dallas high schools but -- for reasons that would be picked over and analyzed for months -- had been living in the same house with a distant cousin of Causey's.

People say they were like brothers, two lanky and talented big men, sleeping on old mattresses in the garage, basketball clothes strewn on their beds and the floor. Turner is 6-foot-7, Causey was 6-5, and both were hoping to get basketball scholarships to the same college.

But on the night of March 23, 2014, everything changed. They got into an argument and went outside the house to settle it, and Turner landed a punch to Causey's mouth, knocking him down so hard he cracked his skull on the street.

None of that is in dispute. But what happened next is. Police would say -- and Simpson would come to believe -- that Turner, and possibly another man, kicked Causey's head in while he was lying semiconscious on the ground. Turner says that never happened, that his friend's death was a terrible accident.

Those moments while Causey was on the ground became the focal point of a Dallas police investigation: If Turner did kick his friend, then he could face murder charges; if not, then, under Texas law, he might not be charged with anything. Spurred on by the medical examiner's findings, a detective would for weeks cajole, plead with, confront and even shock witnesses, all in search of the story he knew must be right.

The paths Simpson and Turner have traveled the past two years have never taken them far from those moments. But the question remains: What happened while Troy Causey was lying on the ground?

The death of Troy Causey

A fist fight between two high school basketball players left one player dead and the other facing prison. Outside the Lines examines the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of high school basketball player Troy Causey Jr.

TAMMY SIMPSON raised Troy mostly by herself, doing her best to scrape by with work in law offices and real estate. From the time he was born, basketball was at the core of their relationship. She had played in community college, and "when I had Troy, I was back on the court six weeks after, not a day late," she says. "And Troy was right there in the stroller watching me."

She later refereed games and coached, and it soon became clear that her son was better than most of the other boys. By age 12, he stood more than 6 feet tall. "He was a beast," Simpson says. "Six-five wingspan, and he was known for his shot-blocking skills. Everything that came inside was going back out."

For all his on-court success, Causey struggled in school. He talked back to teachers, got into fights and ditched class. As he entered his local high school, he was put on the special-education track. "He was 'emotionally disturbed' is what they called it," Simpson says. Causey fell so hopelessly behind in his studies that he became ineligible for high school basketball and, in Simpson's words, "just gave up academically."

In 2011, Tammy married Roferrel Simpson, giving 15-year-old Troy the live-in father she always wanted him to have. But when Troy was 16, he got into a fight with his stepfather and was charged with assault. After missing several meetings with a juvenile probation officer and skipping a court appearance, he spent eight months in a juvenile detention facility, the Dallas County Youth Village. Simpson says it was around this time that John Burley, considered an up-and-coming basketball coach at Dallas' Wilmer-Hutchins High School, first contacted her son. Burley has denied any contact while Causey was incarcerated -- recruiting is against the rules -- and records obtained from the Youth Village contain statements from employees that say Burley did not visit him there. Whatever the case, when Causey was released, he enrolled at Wilmer-Hutchins.

Causey did not live in the school's district and should not have been able to play there. But Simpson says she believed that the coach, so interested in her son, could finally set him on the right track. Causey registered under a phony address and, in September, moved into a house just 3 miles from the school with a woman named Jeanee Miles, who was in a romantic relationship with Burley. There was, at least, a tenuous familial connection. Miles' son was Causey's fourth cousin.

Causey would share the garage with another young man: Johnathan "Bubba" Turner.

WHEN TURNER was maybe 7 or 8, he was decent at basketball but not particularly aggressive, former teammate Cameron Bryant says.

"He was the laid-back goofball. He was just chill," Bryant says. Then, around the time he turned 12, "he started working out. He just got better."

Turner, who declined to comment for this story, endured a difficult childhood. Sources say he grew up with no father around and a mother who struggled with drugs. He was charged as a juvenile with assault but completed a diversionary program to avoid prison. When he turned 18, his mother moved to Louisiana, and he was more or less on his own, shuffling between friends' and relatives' houses. He ended up moving in with one of his friends, Willie Hollins, and Hollins' mother, Jeanee Miles.

Miles was reluctant to add more members to her packed household, but had known Turner for years and liked him. "Bubba is funny, lovable. Even though through his circumstances, you would never know what he went through," Miles says. "He was always happy with everything. He was just a big, lovable giant."

The neighborhood, called Highland Hills, is made up of houses with sparse, sun-scorched yards and bars on the windows. Charlene West, who lives next door, also got to know Turner and Causey. "Those are good boys," West says. "I'd be hanging my Christmas lights and they'd be like, 'Oh, no, Miss Charlene, we'll get that for you,' because they all so tall."

Simpson says she never actually saw the inside of the house but would get updates on her son from Miles. "I just, I don't know, she'd always meet me outside," Simpson says. People can think what they want, Simpson says, but the arrangement was working. Troy's grades were improving, and he and Turner became so close she says she heard Troy end calls to him by saying, "I love you, bro."

For both boys, things were going even better on the court: Turner's high school team, Madison, won the 3A state championship that season. As a senior, he made the all-district team, leading his squad in rebounds and ranking second in scoring. Causey, a senior at Wilmer-Hutchins, was named his district's "newcomer of the year." It looked like he might graduate and attend Seminole State College in Oklahoma, where his mother played.

The 911 call the night of the fight

Jeanee Miles calls 911 on the night of March 23, 2014, to report injuries to Troy Causey.Courtesy Dallas Police Department

THEN CAME the evening of March 23, 2014. Turner and Causey were inside Jeanee Miles' house playing video games with Hollins and another friend, Richard Williams. Williams said later that they had smoked a little marijuana. Simpson says she believes that jealousy had been brewing between her son and Turner over attention from recruiters. Turner later said Causey had been upset all day, although he didn't know why. Everyone agrees, though, that after one game, the boys had an argument over giving up the controller. They began to argue and moved outside to the driveway.

Next door, Charlene West's 21-year-old son, Frederick Weaver, was arriving home from a trip to Wichita, Kansas, with his girlfriend. He made one run inside, and as he came back out to get another bag, he saw the boys next door walking down the driveway. Troy and Bubba were about to fight, Hollins told him.

Weaver later told police that Turner was trying to calm Causey down when the two squared off. Causey had a peculiar stance, holding both forearms together in front of his face, effectively blocking his own vision, according to Weaver. Causey and Turner each swung a few times, then Turner connected with a right hand to Causey's jaw. Troy went down. The crack, as witnesses described it, was sickening.

Charlene West soon was outside herself, surveying the situation. She later would refuse to explain why, but she immediately helped concoct a story for the boys: Troy had gone out to the car to get a charger for his phone and was jumped. West would say she came outside and saw three boys running off.

Jeanee Miles -- who says that she didn't know at the time that the story was made up -- called 911 at 9:04 p.m. "One of my boys had a fight, and he's bleeding out of his ear," she said.

The operator asked whom the fight was with.

"I'm not so sure," she said. "And he's, he's in and out of consciousness."

Was the fight in the house?

"No, no," Miles said. "They were outside, he was outside walking around, and my neighbor just came in and told me."

An ambulance came and took Causey to Baylor University Medical Center.

After the 911 call, Miles called Simpson.

"[She said] Troy had been in a terrible fight, he was unconscious, but he's OK now," Simpson says. "I asked her what happened, and she said four boys jumped on him. Four boys jumped on him and we didn't get to see who it was, it was dark, and we don't know who it was. And I asked her, 'Where was Bubba and Willie?' She said they were at their girlfriends' house."

At the hospital, Causey was in intensive care, the bleeding in his head out of control, his brain swelling and pressing against his skull. His face was puffy, his eyes slightly open and glazed.

At one point, Simpson says, he started to breathe more heavily and his hands clenched. "I turned to the nurse, I said, 'Nurse, he's waking up! He's waking up! He's coming out of it, he's coming out of it!' And I got excited," she says. "And then minutes passed, and I turned to the nurse, I said, 'Nurse, why isn't he up? Because he was just moving.' And she just put her head down and she just shook her head. I said, 'Please, tell me something. What's going on?' And she said, 'Out of all the cases we've had, we've never seen anyone recover from this.'"

The rest of the night, as Simpson and her husband sat there, Troy's condition only worsened. Simpson says Turner and Hollins came to his bedside. Turner was silent, but Hollins swore they would find out who did it.

The next day, at 1:35 p.m., Causey was declared brain-dead.

The blood spatter, more than 5 feet from where Causey landed, became a cornerstone of the investigation. Courtesy Dallas Police Department

ABOUT SIX hours later, Dallas homicide detective Esteban Montenegro began to process the scene. The blood spatter was what got his attention: a spray more than 5 feet from the spot where Causey landed.

Something must have happened while Causey was on the ground to cause the blood to spray like that, he'd say repeatedly over the course of the investigation. His focus became finding out what.

In the medical examiner's investigative notes, one line reads, "Det. Montenegro would like to be contacted once the autopsy has begun. He would like to know about the possible 'high velocity impact' and if the [deceased's] injuries would be from an object or hand contact."

Montenegro began by asking people whether they knew who would want to jump Causey. Someone said there had been an issue with a girl at school, and Montenegro spent time trying to run down that lead.

But his attention shifted the next day, on the afternoon of March 25, when Turner and Hollins came to see him, accompanied by an attorney. Each took a turn speaking to the detective. Outside the Lines obtained video of interviews conducted at police headquarters as well as audio files of interviews Montenegro did in the field and at his office. (A police representative said the department would not permit Montenegro or any other official to speak to ESPN.)

Sitting in a barren, bland homicide interview room, Turner conceded to Montenegro that he had fought with his friend. He said he punched Causey, causing him to hit his head on the ground and then seize up. They took him inside, then called 911. That was it.

Montenegro heard the story and asked, "Did you strike him while he was on the ground?"

"No, sir," Turner said.

"At no point did you strike him when he was on the ground?"

"No, sir."

"Did you kick him when he was on the ground?"

"No, sir. That's my brother. We be together like every day. We trying to make it happen, like, together."

Hollins offered a nearly identical story when he spoke to Montenegro, though the detective clearly wasn't buying it. When Montenegro left the room, Hollins' attorney asked him, "You're sure the fight was just between them two?"

"Positive," Hollins replied.

"OK," the lawyer said, "because if it wasn't, they're going to find out."

When Montenegro met later with Tammy Simpson, he told her that he suspected something happened to her son while he was on the ground. The blood spatter was too much, he said, and the stories from Turner and Hollins were so similar that they sounded rehearsed.

Simpson, numb from shock and grief, exhausted from lack of sleep, absorbed the news. She thought about Miles' phone call saying Troy had been jumped. About Hollins' bedside pledge to find whoever was responsible.

"I didn't know what to think," Simpson says.

Montenegro said there was a way to get clarity.

"He said the autopsy would speak for Troy," she says.

Authorities discuss Troy Causey's autopsy report

Detective Esteban Montenegro discusses the autopsy of Troy Causey with Dallas Medical Examiner Elizabeth Ventura.Courtesy Dallas Police Department

THE NEXT DAY, March 26, medical examiner Elizabeth Ventura performed the autopsy on Causey. Her findings would be crucial: If Causey's death were ruled to have been caused by just his fall, Texas' "mutual combat" laws likely would have prevented the most serious charges against Turner, according to a source familiar with the state's penal code. It's possible he wouldn't be charged at all. If Ventura found evidence of further assault, though, Turner could face murder charges.

Ventura's initial findings, which are part of the hospital record obtained by Outside the Lines, were filed that morning at 9:30. In her report, she wrote that Causey suffered massive trauma to the back of the head, including a linear fracture of the left temporal bone -- a long crack that ran horizontally behind his ear, displaced by about 2 millimeters. He also had a cut on his lip and in his mouth, the result of a hard punch. A few hours later, she went to police headquarters to share the results.

In an audio recording of their conversation, Ventura told Montenegro and another detective that there wasn't much damage on the outside -- no abrasions on the scalp -- but massive damage to the inside of the skull. She showed them fresh pictures from the autopsy. It looked to her like Causey landed on the right side of his skull, where there was another small fracture, but that couldn't explain the significant damage on the left side.

Montenegro asked her whether that damage could have come from hitting the ground.

"No," Ventura said. Causey was hit with something, she told him, something more than a fist.

"Could that be caused by a kick? Montenegro asked.

"A very hard kick," she said. In her written report just hours earlier, she'd described the fracture as "linear," meaning a crack running along the skull, but now Ventura described it differently, as "depressed," meaning the bone had been pushed in by blunt force. "I mean, anything that ... enough to crack his skull that bad. It's a little depressed fracture, so getting hit with something would cause that."

A flare-up in the interrogation room

Detective Esteban Montenegro interrogates witness Frederick Weaver, leading to a heated exchange.

FREDERICK WEAVER, the neighbor who was returning from a trip when the fight occurred, walked into homicide room 3 the next day, March 27, and sat across a gray metal table from Montenegro. He described the scene, telling the detective that Turner tried to de-escalate the argument. "I'm hearing Bubba say, 'I really don't want to fight. You just mad. You're just upset today, Troy.'"

Weaver, who was friendly with the boys, said things had been tough for Causey lately. There had been rumors about all the places he might play college basketball, but the truth, Weaver told the detective, was that Causey was struggling badly in school.

Turner didn't really even land a punch, Weaver said. If anything, he hit Troy in the forearm and Troy fell back, his arms stiff, striking his head on the street. And that was it.

He said Turner and Hollins were in shock, looking to him for what to do next. As West came outside to see what the noise was, Weaver said he told them to get water and tried to lift Troy himself, but his 6-5 frame was too big. The three moved him, and Weaver said he didn't feel any blood on the back of Troy's head. It took awhile to figure out that the blood on the street was coming from Troy's left ear.

"When he's on the ground -- and I want you to think hard -- did anybody else hit him?" Montenegro asked.

Before Montenegro finished the question, Weaver started answering, emphasizing each syllable. "No-body. These are brothers, dude. ... No one else hit him. It was a one-on-one fight."

Montenegro started to tell Weaver that sometimes, in an effort to help someone, a witness can hurt that person. Weaver replied, "I feel like you're trying to incriminate other people when it's not necessary."

Montenegro told Weaver that the autopsy found something else. Weaver said whatever it was, it couldn't be something that showed Causey was beaten after he fell.

For eight minutes they argued.

"No one else hit him," Weaver repeated. "They were trying to help him. That's what I said."

"Let me show you something," Montenegro said. "And I'll be right back. OK?"

Montenegro left the room and, a minute later, returned with two brightly colored 8x10 photos of Causey's skull with the skin peeled back. The images revealed a long, jagged crack that started horizontally above the left ear, dropped in a Z shape, and then ran straight across the back of his skull. Montenegro placed the photos on the table.

Montenegro: You tell me Frederick. Did he deserve that? Did he deserve that?

Weaver: [Calmly] Sir, that's not necessary.

Montenegro: [Louder] Did he deserve that?

Weaver: No, he did not.

Montenegro: That's not from hitting the ground, Frederick.

Weaver: Sir, no one hit him after he hit the ground.

Montenegro: That is not from hitting the ground! If you can live with this? If you can live with this ...

Weaver: [Voice breaking] I'm looking at this, and this is very f---ed up that you came in here and put this in front of my face.

Montenegro: [Yelling] If you can live with this, that's fine ... That's on you! You know what I'm saying. If you can live with this, that's on him. [sic]

Weaver: [Shouting] No one hit that kid, man!

Montenegro: So that crack ... they're lying?

Weaver: No one hit that kid!

Montenegro: [Yelling] So this crack is lying?

Weaver: [Standing, almost wailing] No one hit that kid after he was down!

Montenegro: So how do you think that happened?

Weaver: [Screaming] No one hit that kid after he was f---ing down, dude!

They continued screaming at each other. Weaver rose as he continued to scream, borderline hysterical.

But Montenegro seemed to think Weaver's hysterics were an act. "There's no tears," he said.

THE INTERVIEW with the other witness, Richard Williams, one of the friends who had been in the house when the argument began, went similarly, save for the emotional outbursts. In his notes, Montenegro wrote, "Mr. Williams's demeanor made me think that he knew what actually happened and his eyes began getting watery and at some point he almost cried."

Only one witness would say something different.

A few weeks into the investigation, a parent at school overheard Turner's friend and teammate, Cameron Bryant, talking with another student about how Turner had told them that, after he punched Causey, Hollins had kicked him while he was on the ground. Montenegro brought Bryant in on May 1.

After opening with flattery about Bryant's basketball skills, Montenegro offered a warning: "Your talent is your talent. Right? The only one who can take that away is you, by f---ing up or making a bad choice. You're going to have to make a big, big, big, big choice today."

Bryant started to tell Montenegro that one day, in sixth or seventh period, Turner told him what really happened. He then relayed the same version the witnesses told ... but Montenegro interrupted him.

"That's not what happened," he said.

Bryant started to tell that version again and, again, Montenegro cut him off.

"Somebody struck Troy. And I know for a fact you know."

Bryant started again. "He never told me that part. But like I say, I told Troy, like a long time ago, early, like early before basketball season, I told Troy ..."

Again he was cut off.

"That's not what I heard," the detective said. "Cameron, that's not what I heard. ... If you lie to me, you're going to hurt yourself."

Finally, Bryant told a different story. He got up to demonstrate. He said Troy dipped, and then Bryant acted out punching him with his right hand. Bryant's description of the punch correlated with the massive bruise on the left side of Troy's lower lip. After Troy fell, he said, again acting it out, Turner started to kick him. "And then he was like, Willie came up, and then Willie was coming up kicking him."

Did he say where they kicked him?

"No," Bryant said. "But knowing Willie and Bubba, they had to kick him up in the head."

When they were through, Montenegro shook Bryant's hand, clasping his left hand on top and holding it there for 52 seconds as he spoke. "Cameron, thank you very much," Montenegro said. "You're doing this for your own good."

Johnathan Turner is charged with murder

Johnathan Turner is brought in by the Dallas police and charged with murder.ESPN

ON MAY 5, four days after Bryant's interview and six weeks after the fight, Turner was picked up at home and brought to the station. He was told he was being charged with first-degree murder. The testimony of Bryant, whose name was kept anonymous, figured prominently in Montenegro's arrest-warrant affidavit. It quoted him as saying that Turner "kicked the complainant in the head," even though Bryant had told Montenegro he was only guessing where Causey had been kicked. But between that testimony, the autopsy report and the blood spatter, Montenegro had probable cause.

Dressed in a dark blue hoodie, Turner was led into a police interrogation room.

"What happened when he hit the ground?" Montenegro asked him.

"That was it," Turner says. "We took him in the house."

"Nobody hit him on the ground?"

"No, sir."

"So that fracture on his skull," Montenegro said, "it happened because ..."

"He hit the ground hard."

Turner had a question: "Sir," he said, "do you really think I'm lying?"

"Yes, sir."

"That's what it was, sir," Turner said. "I promise. Like, for real. That's really what happened."

"You're telling me that whatever the doctor found on his skull, she does not know what she is talking about?" Montenegro said. "Because that's not what happened. The physical evidence. The physical evidence on the ground does not, does not match with your story. That's what I want you to understand."

"God got us," Turner said. "He knows the truth."

"Well, I wish God was here so I can ask him."

"Just pray to him," Turner said. "He'll answer your call."

Tammy Simpson's courtroom confrontation

Troy's mother, Tammy Simpson, addresses Johnathan Turner directly at his sentencing hearing. Trevor Paulhus for ESPN The Magazine

THE PROSECUTION in the case faced a mixed bag. Assistant District Attorney Jason Hermus had physical evidence in the autopsy and Turner's confession to at least punching Causey. What he didn't have was an eyewitness who would say Causey was kicked on the ground. Then there were other problems: The blood spatter that caused Montenegro to suspect that Causey had been kicked? The state's expert from the Texas Rangers reviewed the scene and disagreed with the detective. He said, according to a source, that the spatter was not "high-velocity" and was simply a trail left when Causey was moved.

That left only Cameron Bryant, who told Montenegro that Turner confessed. But then Bryant disappeared. Investigators staked out his house, but they couldn't find him. When anyone reached him on the phone, he hung up. Authorities suspected his family was trying to help him hide.

Without Bryant's testimony, there was not enough to implicate Turner for murder and no evidence to implicate Willie Hollins for anything. And so, as police continued to seek a witness, Hermus began negotiations with Turner's attorney, Kobby Warren.

In July 2015, they reached a plea agreement. Turner was charged with manslaughter and got a seven-year suspended sentence. He would spend no more time in jail, but he would have a homicide conviction on his record. If he were to violate the terms, he could serve the entire seven years.

At his sentencing hearing, Turner told the judge that he accepted his sentence. In an unsteady, searching voice, he then turned to face Simpson and her husband: "I apologize for the loss, and, we was like brothers, and I never meant for it to go down like that, and -- I'm sorry for the loss, and I never meant for it to go down like that."

"You know," Roferrel Simpson shouted from the gallery, "that's something you should have said when I was at the hospital at his bedside."

Simpson kept on talking as the judge told him to be quiet and threatened to throw him out.

During Tammy Simpson's victim impact statement, she looked directly at Turner, through a flood of tears. "I'm not going to pray for you and I do wish this pain on you," she said. "I just do. That's the truth. Because it is not fair, and I'm not going to conceal my hurt and my anger.

"I'm angry. I'm mad. I have every right to be. You took my baby. And I don't ever want you to be at peace for what you did."

Turner sat at the defense table, his head down. His lawyer patted him on the shoulder.

AS THE CASE played out, it captivated Dallas, sparking a widespread high school basketball recruiting scandal that eventually cost 15 district employees their jobs, including the one who uncovered Turner and Causey's living arrangement. Causey's coach, Burley, faced termination but was allowed to resign. The way the two boys had been thrown together to live in a garage seemed endemic of a culture that prioritized high school sports success above all else.

But to Tammy Simpson, the recruiting scandal was hardly the point. It made no sense to her that a crime as egregious as her son's death could end in just a manslaughter charge, and with no prison time at that. So she dedicated her life to finding justice for Troy, organizing a rally for him and attending Black Lives Matter protests.

One night at a town hall, she confronted Dallas County District Attorney Susan Hawk, who was elected after Turner's guilty plea, demanding that she take up the case again. Why, she asked, didn't they prosecute Willie Hollins? Why didn't they go after Jeanee Miles or Charlene West for covering up what happened?

As Hawk kept telling her that she couldn't discuss an individual case, Simpson shot back that Hawk had promised in her campaign to take on tough cases. "I feel used and victimized by the Dallas County's DA office," Simpson said.

A second look at Troy Causey's cause of death

Forensic pathologist Elizabeth Laposata reviews the Dallas medical examiner's findings.Courtesy Dallas Police Department

THE LACK OF justice is bad enough, Simpson says. But one of the toughest things for her has been that Turner gets to play basketball. He went to Ranger College, about two hours west of Dallas, where he is coached by Billy Gillispie, the former Kentucky and Texas Tech coach. How is it, she wonders, if the results of her son's autopsy were so clear, that Turner can be free?

There were, in fact, several other outstanding questions about the case: How to square the results of the autopsy with the testimony of all of the eyewitnesses, who claimed Causey was not struck on the ground? And why did Ventura, the medical examiner, describe Causey's injury in her initial report as a "linear" fracture to his skull only to, hours later, when talking to Montenegro, change her characterization of it to a "depressed" fracture, implying a blunt-force impact? In the final written version of the report, filed later, the word "linear" had also been changed to "depressed."

“I'm angry. I'm mad. I have every right to be. You took my baby. And I don't ever want you to be at peace for what you did.”

- Tammy Simpson

Seeking greater clarity on what exactly happened to Causey, Outside the Lines requested access from Simpson to her son's medical records. Outside the Lines then asked eight independent forensic pathologists to examine the files, which included the doctor's report, CT scans, the radiology report and initial autopsy. What they found raised serious questions about the entire case. All but one said they believed that the Dallas medical examiner's report, signed by Ventura and the other 10 pathologists on staff, was wrong. In their view, there was no evidence of a kick.

The eight experts produced four theories on exactly what happened to Causey. ("Welcome to forensic pathology," one of them said.) But they almost unanimously agreed on this: Whatever injuries Causey suffered occurred before or as a result of his fall, not after.

When Outside the Lines informed the Dallas district attorney's office of the experts' findings in April, the prosecutors decided to have the case independently reviewed by a pathologist agreed upon by Turner's attorney. The choice was Nizam Peerwani, the medical examiner in the next county. He reviewed all the same materials as Outside the Lines' experts but also had access to autopsy photos, the release of which had been tightly restricted. Peerwani said he was in complete agreement with the original findings of his Dallas County neighbors. His decision seemed to deal a serious -- likely final -- blow to any hopes Turner had of clearing his record.

Ventura declined to comment, as did her boss, Chief Medical Examiner Jeffrey Barnard, except for one email referencing the sealed autopsy photos: "The photos which your 'experts' did not see clearly show the findings which are in the final report," he wrote. He did not respond to additional emails asking for an explanation.

In early July, Outside the Lines was finally able to obtain the photos and sent them to four of the pathologists. One said he couldn't tell what happened. The other three remained firm that they saw no evidence of a kick.

"There is one injury; he fell and hit his head," says Elizabeth Laposata, who was the chief medical examiner for the state of Rhode Island for 13 years and teaches pathology at Brown's and Boston University's medical schools. "There is no other possibility." Another veteran pathologist, speaking on the condition of anonymity, says, "There's no depressed fracture there. It's a little displaced, but that's from brain swelling. It's not depressed. To me, it's one injury."

At a minimum, the disagreement shows that multiple experts can look at the same evidence and reach different conclusions. "Tough to make a homicide case on that," the veteran pathologist says.

THERE WOULD BE another problem with the case: When tracked down by Outside the Lines at his house in November, Cameron Bryant recanted his testimony. He explained how Montenegro had pressured him, then said that Turner had not confessed anything to him. "That's it," he said.

In early July, Assistant DA Jason Hermus agreed to sit down on camera with Outside the Lines to discuss the case. But just before the interview was to begin, when asked about Bryant's shifting story, Hermus said the information was new to him. Bryant had vanished when his office was preparing its case against Turner, and Hermus said he had never heard that Bryant recanted to anyone. He said that, by law, he was now required to call off the interview. "If I know a witness recanted," he said, "I have to reopen this case. I can't talk about an ongoing case."

A full year after Turner agreed to plead guilty to manslaughter -- and 2 1/2 years since Troy Causey's death -- the case is once again open while prosecutors seek a sworn statement from Bryant and decide how to proceed. Hermus would not comment, but the manslaughter charge against Turner could be dropped.

TAMMY SIMPSON SAYS that the new developments shocked her but that her opinion of what happened remains unchanged. "Well, I cried a lot," she says. She spoke to Montenegro after questions were raised about the medical examiner's report and says he held firm on what happened: There's no way Causey wasn't assaulted after he hit the ground.

It doesn't matter what the experts say, or even that the district attorney has reopened the case, Simpson says. It's devastating to hear, but none of it changes how she feels.

"My son was murdered," she says.

She says she holds the same anger she felt when she protested Turner's game in December. "I wanted to go kick his head in," she says. "I wanted to do to him what he did to Troy."

In the meantime, Turner wants to keep playing and going to school, and maybe get a scholarship to a four-year college. If he does, he may well see Tammy Simpson again, courtside and holding a sign, refusing to let him forget.

T.J. QuinnQuinn is a staff writer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter at @TJQuinnESPN.
Simon BaumgartBaumgart is a feature producer for ESPN. Follow him on Twitter at @simonpb17.

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