He is a felon, convicted Feb. 5, 2009, on two counts of second-degree assault. It's difficult for him to admit. His voice lowers and the words seem to stumble and collide in the back of his throat before tumbling out of his mouth. "My career is over," he says. "My dreams, my aspirations are over....
There was no gun. If you don’t believe that, then really, what’s the point?
It makes no sense going forward and you can stop reading this story, never giving another thought to Doug Wrenn and the latest mishap that’s ruined what might have been a promising basketball career and put him on a path to prison.
He is a felon, convicted Feb. 5, 2009, on two counts of second-degree assault.
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It’s difficult for him to admit. His voice lowers and the words seem to stumble and collide in the back of his throat before tumbling out of his mouth.
“My career is over,” he says. “My dreams, my aspirations are over. Doug Wrenn is dead. That basketball player, that dude is dead. It’s over.”
His mother Dora Wrenn’s eyes pool with tears and her fists clench the tissue she holds in her lap when Doug talks like this.
“Right now he’s wallowing in self-pity, feeling sorry for himself and I just don’t know what to do,” she says. “I’ve never taught him to give up. Never. I don’t think it’s over. He can still play again. He just has to believe he can.”
Doug has been telling his story for the past two hours, talking about that day last year that changed his life. He’s animated now, feeling it all over again. He must have told this story a hundred times, but each retelling, he says, feels like the first time.
Sitting at a restaurant table with family and friends on a Sunday morning, they’re all into it now like a choir in harmony. They fill in the missing pieces when Doug’s memory fails because “the day this happened to him, it stopped our lives too,” said his sister, Deloris Marks.
Doug remembers feeling sick that day, still hung over from the night before when he partied with family and friends and drank three Long Island Iced Teas at the Broadway Grill. He remembers taking his black 2005 Dodge Magnum to a Bellevue Chrysler dealership that morning to repair a flat tire. He picked up the car late in the afternoon and was driving the short distance home.
He says he was talking to a friend on his cellphone when he pulled into the left lane behind a red 2000 Ford Focus at a stoplight.
When the light turned green, he honked at the car, but it didn’t move. He says the driver flipped him off. He tried to pass the car, but was blocked when the car moved into the right lane. He says he pulled alongside the car, rolled down the tinted windows on the passenger’s side, pointed his finger with his cellphone in his hand and yelled expletives before driving away.
“I swear to you, I swear, that was it,” he says. “That was it. That was it. I swear. Nothing else. Not what they’re saying. Not a gun.”
At 6:07 p.m. on March 19, 2008, Bellevue police officer Greg Neese receives a radio call of a handgun-brandishing complaint and drives to the Wilburton Park and Ride, where he interviews two witnesses.
One says she was driving westbound on NE 4th Street when a black Dodge Magnum attempts to pass her.
She says the car pulls up along the left side and the driver, a large black man with a hat on backward, points a handgun at her and a man sitting in her car’s passenger seat. They say they saw the barrel of the pistol move up and down before the car drives away. No shots are fired and they call 911. The witnesses give Neese the license plates of the car.
Four minutes after the 911 call, Bellevue police identify Douglas E. Wrenn, 29, who resides in Bellevue as the registered owner of the car.
At 6:18 p.m., police are notified that Wrenn has a concealed-weapons permit and has several weapons registered to him, including a black Ruger and a .40 caliber Beretta. Eight minutes later, police are advised a Medina police officer stopped Wrenn for suspicion of driving under the influence a week and half ago and Wrenn was carrying a .45-caliber Beretta in a shoulder holster.
At 6:33 p.m., three police officers locate Wrenn’s car in the parking garage of his condominium building. He’s apprehended nine minutes later. Police drive the witnesses to Wrenn’s condo, where they identify him as the assailant and he’s arrested. Wrenn consents to a search of his car and no gun is found.
Bellevue detective Charlie Vance obtains permission from Wrenn to search the condo he shares with a roommate. During trial testimony, Wrenn says he was coerced into giving consent. After several minutes searching Wrenn’s condo, Vance finds a .40 caliber Beretta handgun stuffed in a sock, which was inside a plastic bag and wrapped in a towel between a washing machine and a wall.
Wrenn says he put the gun there weeks ago.
The basketball world is full of Doug Wrenns, young athletes with seemingly endless potential. For every Jamal Crawford, Jason Terry and Spencer Hawes, there are thousands of Doug Wrenns, players with a jump shot and a dream. Players with enough talent to make the NBA but who fall short.
At O’Dea High School, Wrenn held a B-minus grade-point average, although he failed to attain a qualifying score on the SAT and admittedly was a below-average student who had been diagnosed with an attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
On the court, the 6-foot-6 forward was a high-flying basketball marvel. His game was power, grace and attitude. He was an acrobatic dunker, an adequate shooter and an oppressive defender. The “man among boys” description was common. He was a winner who lacked the ability to make teammates better and humility in victory, which infuriated friends and foes.
Wrenn led O’Dea to a state championship as a junior and was named Parade Magazine prep All-American as a senior. He was one of the first Seattle-area prep recruits with a national profile, drawing interest from college-basketball powerhouses such as North Carolina and Kansas. He transferred to Milford Academy in Milford, Conn., and graduated from St. Aquinas High in New Britain, Conn., before starting his college-basketball career at Connecticut.
A string of off-court incidents, including trouble with the law (see Timeline), led to his dismissal from UConn after just one season. He then returned home to play for Washington. In his first year with the Huskies, Wrenn averaged 19.5 points. Pac-10 coaches voted him first-team all-conference and league broadcasters gave him the newcomer-of-the-year award.
The next season, coach Lorenzo Romar replaced Bob Bender, who had been fired, and everything changed. Wrenn and Romar bickered privately about everything from playing time to shot selection. As a junior, Wrenn averaged seven fewer points and said he was asked to leave the program before his senior season. Romar doesn’t dispute Wrenn’s version of their basketball divorce.
Undrafted by the NBA in 2003, Wrenn became a basketball nomad. He spent time with the Kansas City Knights of the American Basketball Association and played in Iceland, Italy, China and the Philippines.
The money was good, but not great for a pro basketball player. Wrenn said he earned about $25,000 per month in base salary and with bonuses he could make $40,000. Most recently, he played in South Korea, where he was given a $200,000 injury settlement in December 2007 after tearing a muscle in his left calf.
“When I came home, that was the best time of my life,” Wrenn said. “I was young and I had money in my pockets. I was driving up and down the coast, from Portland to Vancouver. I was staying with friends. Life was good.”
Ali Nakkour believes in Wrenn’s innocence, but hopes for a mistrial if not an acquittal. The defense attorney with the Freedom Law Firm in Lynnwood is the third lawyer to represent Wrenn in his road-rage trial after the other two left because of disputes over compensation and disagreement over tactics.
Nakkour inherits a case that others avoid because “protecting people’s rights is what I want to do,” he says. This case, however, proves challenging.
Wrenn draws King County Superior Court Judge Jim Rogers, who tosses him in jail for nine days after failing to comply with court orders. Nakkour’s motion for a new judge is denied.
Nakkour thinks he catches a break when he learns prosecutors failed to include gun enhancements to the charge, which carry a mandatory three-year minimum for each count. Wrenn was looking at a six- to seven-year prison sentence if convicted.
Before the trial begins, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Val Richey offers a plea of third-degree assault and reckless endangerment, which means Wrenn may spend six to nine months in jail because he has no prior convictions.
“I thought we should go with the plea,” Nakkour says. “After speaking with his family, Doug decided not to. In hindsight, I guess you could say that was a mistake.”
Nakkour’s motions to suppress evidence found in the condo and toss out Wrenn’s statements to the police are denied. Richey appears to have a strong case. He calls eight officers and two witnesses to the stand. He also has Wrenn’s handgun.
During cross-examination, Nakkour tries to discredit the conflicting trial statements of the two witnesses in the car involved in the incident with Wrenn and prove the police never had probable cause before the arrest. He calls just one witness: Wrenn.
Kevin Burleson and Keith Wheeler will not abandon their lifelong friend. “Not now, not ever,” Burleson said.
They’ve been through so much together. Wheeler was a troubled kid from Seattle’s South End when he met Wrenn, an equally dysfunctional youth from the Central District, in the third grade. They did almost everything together, playing basketball, running the streets and “just learning as you go,” Wrenn explained.
“We were right in the trenches,” said Wheeler, a vice principal at Davis Senior High School in Davis, Calif. “I had an expulsion record thicker than anyone. I had a criminal record as a juvenile. Even then I knew if we don’t get away, only God knows what was going to happen to us.”
With Wrenn’s urging, Burleson left Seattle after high school and played basketball at Minnesota. The Gophers thought they would receive both O’Dea High teammates but Wrenn backed out once Burleson secured a scholarship.
Maybe that’s why Burleson, a 6-3 guard who spent a year with the Charlotte Bobcats in the NBA and plays with the Idaho Stampede in the NBA Developmental League, remains fiercely loyal to Wrenn. They grew close as teenagers and, for a time, Wrenn stayed with Burleson’s family when he had nowhere else to go.
“If I didn’t know Doug Wrenn, I probably would say that he did the things those people say he did, but I know him,” said Burleson who helped Wrenn post $30,000 bail. “I’ve been out with him millions of times. He’s smarter than that.
“For this to be a he-said, she-said thing, it probably should have been dropped. I think his past hurt him in this situation. I’ve been with Doug when he’s been pulled over. I’ve seen what the police do to him and it makes you realize that anything can happen to anybody.”
Former Huskies Brandon Roy, Tre Simmons, Will Conroy and Nate Robinson each offered glowing testimonials about Wrenn. Each said Wrenn played a decisive role in recruiting them to Washington. Robinson said, “Doug was like a big brother to me.”
It’s a tight-knit hoops family that supports each other. Even now, Wrenn says he’d like to be a mentor to Louisville forward Terrence Williams, the former Rainier Beach High star, and Garfield High’s standout sophomore, Tony Wroten.
After nine days of testimony and 5 ½ hours of deliberation, the jury returns a guilty verdict.
Wrenn’s family is puzzled why Nakkour didn’t call more witnesses, including Lamiaa Bouyaghroumni, a 21-year-old student at Shoreline Community College who said she was talking to Wrenn on his cellphone at the time of the incident.
They wonder why jurors didn’t hear detailed evidence about Wrenn’s car being serviced the day of the incident, which they believe makes it impossible for him to have a gun in the car.
“With what we had to work with, I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Nakkour says. A post-trial interview indicates jurors were moved by the testimony of the victim who was the passenger in the car and felt Wrenn’s story could be plausible as well.
Nakkour tells Wrenn’s family the jury was leaning to acquit before a juror re-enacted the crime using a cellphone that was not introduced into evidence. The juror was attempting to show that Wrenn was using a gun. Dora Wrenn believes they will use this in the appeal.
Before last Friday’s sentencing, the prosecution recommends a 14-month sentence with no bail.
Wrenn’s yearlong saga is seemingly nearing an end. But Nakkour files a motion for a new trial, citing irregularities in jury selection, jury misconduct during deliberation and incorrect findings of fact and conclusions of law.
A hearing is set for May 29, when Wrenn will either be given a new trial or he’ll be sentenced to prison.
Marks asked rhetorically: “How will I explain this to her?” she said of her 7-year-old daughter, Zhanaya.
There are no easy answers for the Wrenn family. Said Doug: “I’ve been the breadwinner in my family for as long as I can remember. Now what are we going to do?”
He never wanted to rely on public assistance, but he hasn’t worked in 13 months and his finances are dwindling. Family and friends give him money, he lives with his mother and he’s still 15 credits shy of earning a sociology degree from UW.
The worst part is, he’s done something that had been unthinkable: He’s become his father, Rick Wrenn, a felon who has served multiple prison sentences.
“I didn’t want to be like that,” Wrenn said. “I told myself I’d never be on public assistance, but now look at me. I’m like him. I’m just like him and I hate myself for allowing this to happen.”
Outside the King County Courthouse Friday, Wrenn uses a basketball analogy to explain his circumstance.
“I thought the game was over, but I’m trying to get this into overtime,” he said. “I can’t say I’m happy because all of this, it should have been all done before and I shouldn’t be going through all of this. So now it seems like we’re banging out all types of special plays and whatnot and we’re hitting them. I don’t know. I don’t know what to think. The response of the prosecutors tells me that he knows he messed up.”
Wrenn, now with a glimmer of hope because of the motion for a new trial, wanted to celebrate that Friday night and planned to hang out with friends. These days, he doesn’t take anything for granted. He hasn’t touched a basketball in two months, but his mother urges him to get back into the gym. Wrenn said he’ll start playing when his case ends.
“It’s another day of freedom,” he said. “I won’t be happy until all of this is resolved and I get my name back. That’s so important right now. People who are my friends, they don’t judge me because they know what the deal is. But I don’t want this. I just want to go about my life.
“I want to get back to being Doug Wrenn again.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org