Throw It All Down

Michael Lanahan's life was a puzzle, his death a mystery wrapped in a song.

The judge granted his request, then retracted it in the wake of protests from the prosecutor. The Boulder police sought an arrest warrant for the rape charge at the end of February, more than a month after the incident occurred. By that point, Lanahan had made new plans. He flew home to Virginia, then back to Boulder, making furtive visits to old friends. The CU football recruiting scandal and the Kobe Bryant case were all over the news, and Lanahan didn't want to be the next athlete-as-dickhead headline.

"He was supposed to give himself up," says Amy Gosch. "Instead he came to visit me and stayed three days. I had no clue what was going on. People had told me to stay away from him, but nobody would explain why. He had already been pretty well alienated from everybody else. He said he was leaving to go somewhere, but he didn't say where."

"I tried to convince him to stay," recalls Patten, who had dinner with Lanahan shortly before he took off. "He just didn't feel like there was any other option. He said that nobody was going to believe him with the track record he already had -- that he was already on probation, that CU was trying to blame some of the scandal on him because he had provided alcohol for some parties. He thought it was all going to crash in on him.

Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a 
high-stakes player on the party scene.
Mark Manger
Crazy games: At CU, Michael Lanahan (above) was a high-stakes player on the party scene.

"He had this Captain Ron fantasy going on. He thought he was going to get a boat and sail the Caribbean."

Well now my feet are growing tired
My eyes are lookin wired
Don't know what to do unless I retire
He just said 'let's play some crazy poker'

'Crazy Game of Poker'

The Captive

There were all kinds of stories about where Lanahan had gone and what he was doing. No one learned the truth for months. Spees later read the journal Lanahan had kept on the road, a tale that was part Kerouac, part Kafka.

"It was pretty wild," he says. "He left with a hundred dollars, a backpack full of clothes and his bike. He used his bus pass to get as far as he could. Then Greyhound. Then he hitchhiked from Oklahoma down to Texas, riding his bike part of the way. He stopped to try to help out a guy with a flat tire, and somebody jumped out from behind a bush to rob him, and he took off like Lance on Stage 17 of the Tour."

Using an assumed name, Lanahan found work as a bartender in Austin. He was soon making suggestions for how to improve the business. The place began charging a hefty cover and providing an open bar to an exclusive private clientele, made up of whoever happened to show up and sign the "guest list." Business was good -- maybe too good. One night in June, the Austin cops busted the bartender for being intoxicated, ran his prints and shipped him back to Boulder to face the music.

Lanahan would later tell people he was just a week away from a new identity when he got caught. One more week, he said, and he would have been in Mexico. But once again the booze brought him down.

Patten went to see Lanahan in the Boulder County Jail every week. He tried to appear upbeat. He was reading a lot of books, including One Hundred Years of Solitude. He was involved in peer counseling with other prisoners. He had made up his mind to give up drinking for good. And he was going to fight this thing.

But as the months dragged on, his resolve to clear his name wavered. After six months, he'd had enough.

"I was surprised when he took the plea deal," Patten says. "Right before that, he had talked about going to trial. He wanted to do that. Then something in him snapped, and he was like, 'I have to get out of here.'"

On January 25, 2005, Lanahan pleaded guilty in Boulder County District Judge Daniel Hale's courtroom to a felony charge of attempted sexual assault and a misdemeanor charge of unlawful sexual contact. Jane Doe read a statement to the court:

"I will always remember 2004 as the year that I went crazy and was called crazy. It was the year that I hated myself, the year that I stopped treating myself like a human being, because somebody else didn't treat me like one.... It was the year that my body started shaking uncontrollably and I started to find things to sniff, smoke or swallow. It was the semester that I started cutting myself, disappearing at parties to dismantle shaving razors in order to slice up my arms....

"I nearly self-destructed. I believed if someone would treat me like that, then I must be worthless. I lived with so much pain that I didn't deserve."

Lanahan said nothing. He stared at the defense table while Jane spoke, then stood as Judge Hale handed him a four-year deferred sentence, including intensive probation and participation in a sex-offender treatment program. His bland behavior outraged Daily Camera columnist Clint Talbott, who penned a furious indictment of his own, denouncing Lanahan as a rapist and a coward, a "predator" with a "heartless gaze."

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