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Hitman Plot Latest Fiasco For Irvin

June 29, 1996

DALLAS (AP) _ Dallas Cowboys star Michael Irvin has always lived large, even pronouncing himself ``The Playmaker″ of America’s Team.

Not much has gone right lately for the wide receiver with three Super Bowl rings.

Since Irvin’s 30th birthday party at a motel with two topless dancers was broken up by police in March, he’s been the focus of an extortion plot, begun a trial on drug possession charges and allegedly has been targeted in a murder-for-hire scheme set in motion by a Dallas police officer.

Johnnie Hernandez, who resigned from the force following his arrest, was in a private cell under suicide watch Friday in the Lew Sterrett Justice Center. Bail was set at $250,000 on a solicitation of capital murder charge and $2,500 for a bribery charge.

The bribery count is for unrelated allegations that Hernandez sold confidential criminal background information to an undercover agent for $300. Sgt. Jim Chandler, a Dallas police spokesman, said the bribery investigation already was under way when the alleged plot against Irvin came up.

Law enforcement officials, citing a gag order in Irvin’s high-profile drug case, remain silent about what may have motivated Hernandez to want the football star killed. But Hernandez, who has been subpoenaed as a witness in the ongoing trial, has been portrayed in media reports as a disgruntled and protective boyfriend.

Sources say he may have been angered at the way Irvin treated his girlfriend, Rachelle Marie Smith, a 24-year-old topless dancer who was friends with the women caught at the motel with Irvin. Smith, who uses the stage name ``Lorrissa,″ had testified about Irvin before the grand jury that indicted him. She also is to testify at Irvin’s trial.

Irvin reportedly told Smith not to testify about his lifestyle ``or you could be hurt,″ an unidentified law enforcement told The Dallas Morning News.

Hernandez believed Irvin had repeatedly threatened Smith if she testified at his drug trial, and wanted to stop the threats.

Hernandez’s attorney, Frank Perez of Dallas, said his client’s record as a police officer, which includes several commendations, makes the allegations against him hard to believe.

``Johnny’s a very young man. I think his record’s going to show that he’s a good police officer with an unblemished record,″ Perez said. ``As you all know, he’s presumed innocent. I’m going to put together the best possible defense.″

In a motion filed Friday to lift the gag order, Irvin’s defense attorneys took aim at the allegations, saying the ``news media has continually reported half-truths and misinformation from secret sources who were privy to secret grand jury investigations.″

They also asked that a court of inquiry be convened ``to inquire into the gross violations of grand jury secrecy.″

Smith was called before the panel that indicted Irvin and two topless dancers because her name appeared on the registration records for the room police were called to March 4 _ a day before Irvin’s 30th birthday _ in response to a loud party, a source close to the investigation said.

Irvin, whose legal woes began that night, was reportedly upset that Smith testified. When they met to discuss it April 18, Irvin had Smith strip-searched for a recording device, a source told The News.

State District Judge Manny Alvarez said Friday that Irvin’s trial would continue, even though Hernandez had been arrested and charged. Alvarez had previously admonished potential jurors not to read or listen to reports about the case, and said he saw no reason to declare a mistrial.

Early this week, police were tipped to Hernandez’s plan. On Wednesday, he offered ``several thousand dollars″ as a partial payment to an undercover Drug Enforcement Administration agent posing as a hitman, police chief Ben Click said.

After five years on the force, 14 commendations and no disciplinary actions on his record, Hernandez now faces up to 99 years in prison if convicted.

The development is the latest bizarre twist in an incredible few months for Irvin, who seemed on top of the world in January when the Cowboys won their third Super Bowl in four years.

Irvin, who had one of his best seasons, has always been known as a loudmouth on and off the field, but his behavior was usually accepted as part of his personality.

He raised a ripple of criticism shortly before the Super Bowl when he uttered a profanity on national television following the NFC Championship game.

Then came revelations: the March motel incident; an April disclosure by Irvin that extortionists threatened to blow up his lawyer’s office if the star didn’t paying $120,000; reports of a rented home nicknamed the ``White House″ where Cowboys players could party with women and do drugs; Irvin’s drug indictment and re-indictment a few days after it was discovered that a member of the original grand jury lived in the wrong county.

Whether Irvin makes it to Austin for the start of training camp July 17 remains to be seen.

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