THE BEST OF FRIENDS

Big dudes on campus, Patrick Dennehy and Carlton Dotson didn't hang much with the other basketball players at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. Usually, it was just the two of them. "They were always together," says LaDonna Nelson, a Baylor student and neighbor. "If one was going to eat, the other one was, too." On Memorial Day, they celebrated Dotson's birthday by staying home and grilling steaks. Nelson once asked them why they didn't socialize with the other players. "This is the person I trust the most," Dotson told her. "This is the person who has my back." Dennehy agreed. "We're tight. He's like a brother to me."

But they showed some weird behavior at times. They bought three pit bulls for their little apartment. And they bought guns--opening the door only when armed. Relatives and friends said they seemed paranoid. Dotson spoke to his estranged wife of getting phone calls and hearing someone cock a gun, sometimes even fire it. Then around June 12, Dennehy vanished. Two weeks later his blue Chevy Tahoe was found in a parking lot in Virginia Beach, Va., its license plates removed. On Saturday, police found Dennehy's body in a grassy area near an entranceway to a gravel pit outside Waco. Police last week arrested his pal, Dotson, and charged him with murder. Dotson had called 911 on Sunday in Maryland and asked for psychiatric help. Relatives say he had been walking around the house with --an open Bible reciting prayers. Police took him to a hospital for the night. The next day, according to a police affidavit, Dotson confessed to killing Dennehy while the two were shooting at targets outside Waco for fun. Police say Dotson said the two had argued, and that Dennehy had pointed a gun at him. But Dotson insists he told the cops no such thing. "I didn't confess to anything," he told a reporter after his arraignment on Monday. "I didn't do anything." But sources close to the investigation say it was Dotson's confession that led them to the pit where, NEWSWEEK has learned, they earlier in the week had found shell cases.

The bizarre case has shaken Baylor, a straitlaced Baptist college where the two players had transferred from other schools. At 6-foot-10, Dennehy had all the makings of a star forward, a powerhouse who was expected to carry Baylor to a higher level of basketball. Off the court, he was a loner. A solid B student at the University of New Mexico before moving on the Baylor, he liked to write poetry. Sometimes he painted his fingernails black. He occasionally displayed an explosive temper. He left the team at the UNM last year after feuding with other players and coaches. During one game, he shoved a teammate, kicked over a chair and then stormed off the court. At the time, his coach said the outbursts were tied to an undisclosed medical condition and the school confirmed that Dennehy was taking medicine for the condition. Dennehy told reporters he was simply upset because "my teammates wouldn't pass me the ball."

At Baylor, Dennehy seemed to have found a trusted confidant in Dotson. Dotson, 6-foot-7, was raised by his great-grandparents in the little Maryland town of Hurlock, which has a single traffic light and two poultry factories. After high school, he moved to Texas to play basketball for Paris Junior College. After two years there, he enrolled at Baylor. Along the way, he married Melissa Jill Kethley, a Texas native and volleyball star. It didn't last. When they separated, Dotson moved in with Dennehy, sleeping on the couch. Now Dotson is being held without bond at the Kent County Detention Center in Maryland. His lawyer, Grady Irvin, says Dotson is so emotionally unstable that anything he told police would be unreliable. Chestertown Police Chief Walter Coryell says Dotson talked of hearing voices. "He said he needed to be locked up, to be put away," Coryell says. "He needed help." He also said Dotson was "a nice kid, very polite, always smiling." But his behavior had grown increasingly erratic. Four days before his arrest, Dotson called the police in Dorchester County and asked them to come to his home. Then, according to the police, he delivered a rambling two-hour statement about Dennehy. Earlier this month, Dotson went to church with his mother, Gail Johnson, and sought out the minister after the service. The Rev. Ellsworth Tolliver, the pastor of Bethel AME Church, says Dot-son talked for about an hour, "mostly about his spirituality and his relationship with God." Tolliver says Dotson never mentioned Dennehy.

Dennehy's girlfriend, Jessica De La Rosa, has spoken in the past few weeks about the problems Dotson and Dennehy were having with another Baylor player but more recently wouldn't discuss the issue. Baylor coaches say that in June Dennehy's Chevy Tahoe was burglarized and Dotson believed money had been stolen from their apartment.

It remains a mystery who might have been threatening Dennehy, and why. There was bad blood between both Dotson and Dennehy and the other Baylor player. But police say that player does not appear to be connected to Dennehy's disappearance. They feel certain they've got the killer. And now they have a body. If only these two young men had just kept to shooting hoops.

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