Jury takes less than three hours to decide

NORMAN, Okla. -- A former Nebraska football player was
acquitted Wednesday of an aggravated assault and battery charge
stemming from a pre-game incident in which an Oklahoma spirit squad
member was injured.

A 12-member jury deliberated for just less than three hours
before declaring Darren DeLone innocent on the felony charge. After
the verdict was read, DeLone let out a muffled gasp and pumped his
right fist over the table.

"First, I want to thank God. I just want to thank everybody. I
prayed to God," said DeLone, who said he expected the acquittal.
"I was just ready for it, no doubt."

DeLone's defense attorney, Garvin Isaacs, said in his closing
arguments Wednesday that the 6-foot-5, 315-pound former Nebraska
offensive lineman was "wrongfully accused" and that the injuries
suffered by 19-year-old Adam Merritt were accidental.

"He's an innocent man," Isaacs said, pointing to DeLone in the
Cleveland County courtroom.

"No crime was committed by anybody. It was a pure and complete
accident," Isaacs said.

Isaacs pointed out inconsistencies among prosecution witnesses
and said it was based on "suggestion and guesswork." He called it
"one of the most frightening cases that I've ever seen in my

"This case was like a Ruf/Nek shotgun: a lot of noise, a lot of
smoke and no bullets," Isaacs said afterward. The attorney had
argued that the noisy, smoky shotguns that the Ruf/Neks carry
helped escalate tensions before the incident.

Isaacs said DeLone, a 23-year-old senior, had to drop two
classes and missed two NFL tryouts because of the tension and
stress caused by the impending trial. As a result, DeLone will not
graduate this semester.

"It's been difficult just the fact that I was falsely
accused," DeLone said. "I respect the Oklahoma fans. They've been
nothing but nice to me."

District Attorney Tim Kuykendall alleged that DeLone, who did
not testify in his own defense, deliberately ran into Merritt after
verbal sparring between Nebraska players and Ruf/Neks prior to the
Cornhuskers' game at Oklahoma on Nov. 13.

Kuykendall said eight prosecution witnesses "were unequivocal"
in their testimony that a player wearing DeLone's number, 67,
appeared to deliberately strike Merritt during blocking drills
along the sidelines near the end zone of Owen Field.

Kuykendall said that the collision occurred after DeLone
allegedly pointed toward the Ruf/Neks and engaged in
"trash-talking" with one of them.

"Thirty seconds later, wham!" Kuykendall said as he shoved his
fist into his open hand. "He's knocked against the wall. He's got
two teeth on the ground."

Merritt lost one tooth in the collision and had another one
severed at the gum line. Isaacs argued that Merritt was injured
because he was not paying attention and claimed that another player
hit the Oklahoma freshman accidentally.

When the verdict was announced, Merritt had no reaction. He left
the courthouse without commenting.

"I feel sorry for the victim and his family in this case,"
Kuykendall said.

Had DeLone been convicted, he could have faced up to five years
in prison, up to one year in the county jail or a $500 fine. When
he was pronounced innocent, his mother, Dorothy DeLone, raised her
right hand in the air and began to cry.

"It was just a test of faith from God. God is good," Dorothy
DeLone said.

Her husband, Alex DeLone, credited Isaacs' work for the
acquittal, saying: "Without him, we wouldn't be in the position
we're in."

Tim Cassidy, the associate athletic director for football at
Nebraska, said the case demonstrates that a football field can be a
dangerous place.

"We're all very disappointed that a young man was hurt in
this," Cassidy said. "There's got to be a clear field before the
game, during the game and after the game. "We're looking out for
the safety of the fans. There's got to be a clear line there."

In a statement issued by spokesman Keith Mann, the Nebraska
athletic department called the incident ``terribly unfortunate''
and voiced a desire to take furthers steps avoid similar
occurrences in the future.

"The University hopes that this case will create a dialogue
among administrators to more clearly define the boundaries between
student-athletes and spectators," the statement said. "We believe
clearer boundaries, roles and responsibilities need to be drawn up
for anyone on the field including alumni, support staff, spirit
groups, players and coaches to mitigate the chances of future
incidents arising."

University of Oklahoma spokesman Kenny Mossman said the school
had no immediate comment.