Former Tulane dance team member testifies in Mackey trial

Trent Mackey
Trent Mackey

A former member of Tulane University's dance team sat on a New Orleans witness stand for hours Wednesday as a jury weighed whether she was a hapless victim of a robbery plotted by a football star or a drug kingpin who sold marijuana in mass.

One of her clients, former Tulane University linebacker Trent Mackey, is on trial this week, accused of orchestrating a plot to rob the woman at gunpoint in her apartment last summer.

Prosecutors allege Mackey set up a fake drug deal with the woman, plotted to have two other men burst into the apartment, point a gun to her face and steal marijuana.

He was initially considered a victim in the case, prosecutors said, until he "opened his mouth" and a series of lies tumbled out.

But Mackey's defense attorneys describe their client as the victim of a shoddy police investigation paired with prosecutors looking to make their mark with a high-profile conviction of a football star.

"This was more of a safari hunt than a search for the truth," Richard Kohnke, one of his defense attorneys, told the jury, adding that the All-Conference USA linebacker was their "trophy elk."

The woman, Megan Wales, was on the university's dance team.

She knew Mackey casually and they had smoked marijuana together before and had worked together at an Uptown lounge several months before the robbery, according to testimony.

Wales, on the witness stand for at least four hours Wednesday, acknowledged that she sold drugs, but insisted she was a benevolent drug dealer, only doing occasional favors for friends for little profit.

Kohnke and his fellow defense attorney, Rick Kelly, spent hours grilling Wales on her drug dealing and pointing to prior inconsistent statements about how deeply involved she was in the drug trade.

Mackey had asked her to get him a large amount of weed, at first a half-pound. He described himself as a middleman, securing the weed for an unknown accomplice.

She said she couldn't get him that much.

Wales and Mackey eventually agreed — over a series of text messages that became Wednesday's primary exhibits — to meet at the woman's apartment where he would bring $600 to buy marijuana, according to the defense attorneys.

She told him it was medical marijuana from California, and came in a variety of flavors.

In one message, days before the exchange, Mackey wrote, "we can stake out her crib before she walks in."

Mackey soon sent another text, telling Wales that the sinister-sounding one was meant for a friend in a sorority, about a prank in his fraternity. But prosecutors allege it was a text meant for a co-conspirator about their plans to rob Wales that was accidentally sent to the intended victim.

She thought little of it at the time, she said. She believed they were friends.

Wales agreed to have the pot, and Mackey would bring the cash to the exchange. Mackey missed their meeting times over several days, and the woman started to become irritated, according to the text message. She told him to "hit up someone else."

But they eventually arranged to meet on the afternoon of July 12, 2012, just after Mackey appeared before the City Council in support of the University's football stadium.

He arrived, and the two reportedly sat down to talk before the exchange.

His phone rang. Wales told the jury that she heard him say "hey coach" and he walked outside.

The woman lived in an apartment on the second floor of a building on Broadway Street, and the door from the building to the outside closed and locked automatically. Prosecutors suggested Mackey left it open for his accomplices when he came back inside.

He walked back upstairs and into Wales' apartment. She testified she heard a strange sound from outside and walked toward the door to lock it. Two men barreled in, one wearing a Hawaiian print shirt and the other dressed in all black with a purple hat that read, "I love haters."

The one in the hat — 20-year-old Robert Murray — allegedly pointed a gun at her face and told her to get on the floor. She lay down on the hardwood, her face toward the door as a third man, alleged to be 19-year-old Julian Haynes took her cell phone, laptop, purse and the drugs.

Murray has since been convicted of armed robbery; Haynes is still awaiting trial.

While they ordered Wales onto the floor, she testified that they referred to Mackey by name and called him "big buddy."

Prosecutors noted in their opening statements that "a little girl on the dance team" was forced to the floor, with "all 200-plus pounds of Trent Mackey left standing."

The men left, and Mackey told Wales they'd taken his phone.

Wales testified she "freaked out" and ran after them. Mackey, meanwhile, walked to his car and left, never calling the police.

Defense attorneys suggested Wales tried to hunt down nonpaying customers who had ripped her off, then tried to hide the evidence of her drug business before police were called.

She testified that she caught up with the men on the street, demanded her phone and computer and that they handed them over.

Mackey went to a teammate, Zach Morgan's, house.

Morgan testified Wednesday that Mackey arrived with a cell phone in hand, and told him he'd been robbed of his second cell phone. He asked for a ride back to Wales' home.

Police considered him a victim for five weeks until, prosecutors said, his web of lies began to unravel.

For one, prosecutors said in their opening statements, no "coach" ever called him as he'd pretended. The only phone number that called Mackey during that time was registered to Mackey himself, which he allegedly gave to one of his co-conspirators to use during the crime.

Mackey claimed not to know the other men, but they all exchanged dozens of calls and text messages in the days leading up to the robbery. He said at first the robbers didn't refer to him by name, then conceded they may have because "everyone knows me."

His defense attorneys allege that Wales is the liar.

Mackey was a 22-year-old star athlete, with a good change of going professional, they said.

"Trent Mackey made some terrible decisions by befriending someone like Megan Wales," Kohnke said. "He's guilty of stupidity and poor judgment."

The trial stretched into Wednesday evening, and is scheduled to resume Thursday morning.