By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
She concluded: "A notation of dismissal will appear on your academic transcript. The notation will be removed if you successfully complete all requirements listed above whether or not you are seeking re-admission to Colorado State University."
Mike appealed the decision, and another hearing date was set for November 30.
"I always wanted to go to CSU," Mike says. "I could have gotten a cheerleading scholarship to the University of Colorado, but I've always liked Colorado State better."
Still, in the weeks leading up to his appeal date, Mike's resolved wavered. At first he thought that once school officials heard his side of the story, there was no way that they could accuse him of rape. "Even if I am as bad as I sound in their reports, I'm only a jerk," he remembers thinking. "Fine. I'll go along with that."
But later, he started to think that the fight wasn't worth it. The appeals process seemed rigged against him. In it, Mike and a single advocate -- after learning the cost of a lawyer, he selected his 24-year-old sister, Stephanie -- would face off against the director of judicial affairs. "How fair is that?" Mike's mother asks. "An administrator who does this for a living against a teenager?"
Mike did what he could to prepare his case. He collected handwritten statements from those who knew him and thought about ways he could convince administrators that his version of that night was the more believable one. He continued attending classes while living at the fraternity. Although the school had banned him from the cheerleading team, Mike's coach was sympathetic, and he permitted Mike to attend practices the minute they were officially over. Many of his teammates stayed late to work with Mike.
Mike is the first member of his family to attend college, and so his success at CSU is a collective family concern. The weekend after Thanksgiving, Beth and Stephanie helped Mike prepare his defense, sitting at the family's dining-room table in Arvada with documents spread before them like a paper feast. They dug for holes in Sarah's story and tried to think of convincing ways to show that Mike was a solid citizen. Beth is on disability leave from her job, and money is short; in late October she hosted two garage sales to raise cash to help pay for Mike's attorney fees.
She didn't raise anywhere near enough. And after consulting again with the lawyer, Mike and Beth decided that maybe he should walk away. The risk that anything Mike said during the appeal could later be used to drag him into criminal court seemed too high, and both the financial and emotional cost too steep. "This is serious stuff," says Beth.
By early this week, after the DA had declined to press charges, Mike and CSU were close to a deal: Mike would be allowed to finish the semester, and CSU would remove the dismissal from Mike's permanent academic record -- provided that he sees a psychologist specializing in alcohol- and sexual-abuse issues who will then state that Mike is at no risk of reoffending, Hudgens said.
Beth has resisted that condition. "What she's asking for is impossible," Mike's mother says. "No psychologist is going to sign a piece of paper saying Mike will never, ever do something wrong again."
Hudgens, she continues, "does thousands of these cases. But this is Mike's future. Twenty years from now, if he gets divorced and his wife finds out about this, she could use it to prevent Mike from seeing his children."
Although details of the final deal between Mike and CSU are still being worked out, Mike's part of the bargain is clear: He will leave CSU for good.
Beth says she eventually came to believe her son.
But on that Sunday in early October, as soon as she hung up the phone with Mike at his fraternity house, she called her cousins. "I need your objectivity," she told them. So the entire extended family piled into a car and immediately drove up to Fort Collins, where they sat down and began asking questions.
Beth was crying too hard to participate much. At first she was skeptical, but then she began to think her son was telling the truth. "His story never changed," she says. The real turning point, though, hinged on something much subtler.
"When you are a parent, and as close as our family is, you know your kids inside and out," Beth says. "Whenever Mike is in trouble, the world just stops -- time stops for him, and he can't see beyond what is happening at that moment. But this time, as we talked to him, he kept saying, 'When this is over...' He was looking to the future, ahead.
"When I realized that, I also realized that he didn't do it. It's something only a mother would know."
But Beth continues to question herself, wondering if she's let her love for Mike get in the way of seeing the truth. "Am I being blind?" she's wondered more than once. And she keeps struggling to interpret a 21st-century sex crime through a 1970s lens. "When I was a girl, when I took off my clothes and crawled into bed with a man, it meant we were going to have sex," she says. "What do girls these days expect? I tell my daughter not to put herself into a bad situation."