Ex-PSU player held for trial in killing
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BELLEFONTE, Pa. -- His arms hung out of proportion to his body, mantis-like, so that the rest of Lavon Chisley only appeared to fill the space between two hulking parentheses. It was because of those arms that Mr. Chisley, even when he failed to excel as a Penn State football player, still fit the figure of a future professional.
"From the minute he walked on campus," said E.Z. Smith, a former Penn State offensive lineman and teammate, "I think everybody assumed he would play in the NFL."
Yesterday, those arms were bound by handcuffs, as Mr. Chisley, 23, arrived at the Centre County Courthouse for a preliminary hearing. He faces first- and third-degree homicide charges in the stabbing death of Langston Carraway, 26, who was a friend of Mr. Chisley's.
After a 7 1/2-month investigation, the local district attorney charged Mr. Chisley with one of the most violent acts in the history of the region.
During the three-hour proceeding, a police officer, called to testify by Karen Muir, Mr. Chisley's attorney, admitted inaccuracies in the criminal complaint, a revelation suggesting holes in the commonwealth's case, built largely on DNA evidence. But at the end of the proceeding, the judge determined there was enough evidence to hold Mr. Chisley for trial.
Police know this much: Sometime after sundown on June 3, 2006, Mr. Carraway died in a bloodbath. He was found on the couch of his apartment in State College.
Centre County District Attorney Michael Madeira has indicated that Mr. Chisley's debts may have been a motive in the slaying. On the day he was killed, Mr. Carraway was seen wearing an expensive watch and carrying a large amount of cash.
In the upcoming months, he'd planned to graduate from Penn State and attend law school. Instead, on June 5, Mr. Carraway's younger brother, Dorian, found an officer on the way to the scene and said, three times, "My brother is dead."
When Patton Township police Officer Tom Snyder walked into the apartment, he found the living room in disarray. Numerous steak knives and a pair of scissors, the presumed murder weapons, were spread on the floor.
The officer found a body, with a large stab mark in the neck; "several of them, actually," he testified yesterday, "and also numerous wounds to the abdomen." The coroner, counting stab wounds, would find 93 of them.
During this testimony, Mr. Chisley stayed quiet and calm. He'd broken into sobs 1 1/2 weeks earlier, on the day of his arrest, but he'd since regained equilibrium. Former Penn State teammates knew Mr. Chisley foremost for his state of perpetual ease.
Whether going out or going to class, he wore sweat pants and a T-shirts, the uniform of comfort. Though he'd grown up with his grandparents and often cared for his younger brother -- responsibility, met early -- he also showed surprising signs of innocence.
Friends called him "green," inexperienced. Those in his recruiting class -- close friends Michael Robinson and Matthew Rice, among others -- were older by a year.
Unlike most Nittany Lions, he hadn't been pegged as a Division I-A player until his final year of high school at Westlake High in Waldorf, Md., where he grew into a speed-rushing defensive demon and hit the national radar.
"He wasn't even a starter for us in his junior year," high school coach Dom Zaccarelli said. "Then, by October of his senior season, he had 30 scholarship offers."
At Penn State, his performance never caught up to his potential. In 2004, his junior season, he recorded one sack and split time at defensive end.
Before the next season, he channeled his focus. During the summer, he worked out with fellow Lions -- often Tamba Hali, Mr. Robinson and Mr. Rice -- two or three times daily. They ran hills. They jointly purchased a bench press machine, which they installed in a sheltered area of their apartment complex.
Prematurely, Mr. Chisley assumed the pro athlete's lifestyle. From Chuck Jackson, a dog breeder in Lewistown, he purchased two Italian mastiffs, a $2,500 value, for which he paid only $300, Mr. Jackson said. In State College, he commissioned tattoo artist Philip Clouser to design a massive scorpion -- 2 1/2 feet, total -- to cover his left arm. When Mr. Clouser finished the project, his newly inked client owed $3,000, money he didn't have.
"The basic deal was, once he got into the NFL and got his signing bonus," Mr. Clouser said, "he'd come up and give me one chunk of money. And I knew he was a good prospect."
But poor grades in summer classes before his senior season in 2005 prompted Penn State to declare him academically ineligible. He distanced himself from his ex-teammates, tortured by their talk of the season's success.
He continued to compile debts: $10,000 to a sports agent, according to the criminal affidavit, and $6,000 to a veterinarian. He'd promised to remain at Penn State and graduate in December 2005, but that, too, fizzled.
Months after Mr. Chisley lost his spot on the team, Vernon Carraway, a Penn State student support services counselor and the father of the homicide victim, allowed Mr. Chisley a room in his home, provided he performed the requisite chores. Vernon Carraway in earlier years had provided similar goodwill offers to other students, even nonathletes. Mr. Chisley accepted.
During Mr. Chisley's stay at the Carraway household, agents and other NFL representatives often called, still interested in the player with an archetype build. Mr. Chisley, in turn, prepared for the 2006 NFL draft.
"Maybe Lavon was desperate, maybe not," said Vernon Carraway, in an interview with the Post-Gazette. "But either way, his people were desperate [to see him succeed]. His family was desperate. His mother was desperate. His grandparents were desperate. And all of a sudden, they had all these expectations. He was going to do all these great things -- he was going to the NFL! He was going to make a quarter-million dollars! These expectations now become needs. And that's dangerous. Because all these hopes ... crash down. Poof!"
In mid-March 2006, Mr. Chisley -- forgotten by some Penn State teammates -- re-emerged at the team's workout facility for an event known as pro day. Those eligible for the NFL performed a slew of speed, agility and strength drills. Several dozen NFL scouts attended, taking notes. Mr. Chisley ran a 40-yard dash that day in 4.84 seconds. He registered a 30 1/2-inch vertical jump.
"He looked good," said Mr. Robinson, now a running back with the San Francisco 49ers. "I know the last time we talked [at pro day], he said, 'Mike, not playing, it's been tough. But hopefully I can get a free agent deal. I want to show a team that they need me.'"
One month later, pro teams selected 255 players in the NFL draft. Hundreds of others joined teams via free agent contracts. None selected Mr. Chisley.
When Officer Snyder stepped away from the stand at yesterday's preliminary hearing, a former friend of Mr. Chisley, Kerry Onaka, took his place. On June 3, 2006, according to testimony, Mr. Chisley drifted in and out of Ms. Onaka's State College residence. By 10 p.m., he left for good.
Earlier that day, while packing for a trip, Ms. Onaka had found a pair of heavy-duty gloves tucked inside Mr. Chisley's windbreaker. She remembered it, she said, because she thought it unusual. The gloves appeared similar to one that was found, splashed in blood, at the crime scene.
Ms. Onaka testified that on June 4, he said he wanted to leave for Baltimore. He seemed hurried, she testified. Then on June 26, she said, with police already involved, she spoke again with Mr. Chisley, and he asked her to tell police that he was in Baltimore, not State College, on the night of Mr. Carraway's death.
A detective, Chris Federinko, described the evidence against Mr. Chisley, referencing, among other things, a DNA profile obtained from the bloody glove at a state police lab.
"The only DNA profile found inside the glove was Chisley's," the signed affidavit said.
Under questioning from Ms. Muir, he acknowledged that lab reports showed a mixture of DNA inside the glove. A third DNA profile found by the lab, Detective Federinko testified, appeared to match neither Mr. Chisley nor Mr. Carraway.
The attorney asked the detective if the information in the signed affidavit was, in that case, untrue.
"That is correct," he said.
An hour later, the judge decided that Mr. Chisley would face a trial.Michelle Klein, Centre Daily Times
Escorted by Patton Township police officers, Lavon Chisley arrives at the Centre County Courthouse for his preliminary hearing, yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.
First Published January 27, 2007 12:00 am