At a time when the NFL has chosen to say nothing about the Tyreek Hill situation, Hill’s lawyer has said plenty.
Attorney N. Trey Pettlon has sent a four-page, single-spaced letter to the NFL, which was then obtained by (leaked to) ESPN.com. (Pettlon is the likely leaker. After all, no lawyer has ever written a four-page, single-spaced letter of which the lawyer wasn’t proud.)
In the letter to NFL special counsel for investigations Lisa Friel, Pettlon denies on Hill’s behalf any and all allegations of abusing his three-year-old son. Somewhat surprisingly, Pettlon implicates Espinal, accusing her of using a belt on their child and quoting test messages to Hill in which Espinal says, “I hurt [our son]. I’m the one that did it.”
Pettlon confirms that Hill’s voice appears on the disturbing audio that surfaced last week; predictably, Pettlon constantly refers to the audio as a “secret recording,” a device aimed at making Espinal look bad for creating it.
Secret or not, nothing changes the fact that, while arguing whether the child is terrified of Hill or respects him, Hill said to Espinal, “You need to be terrified of me too, bitch.” Pettlon admit that the “comment is inexcusable,” and that Hill “wouldn’t ask me to defend that here.”
Two paragraphs later, Pettlon tries to excuse and defend the comment, saying “it seems clear from the audio that Ms. Espinal is not in fact terrified of Tyreek.”
Pettlon shouldn’t be faulted for any of this. Anyone accused of wrongdoing is entitled to a defense, and Pettlon is providing that service to Hill, for a fee.
But that doesn’t mean the letter should be regarded as entirely accurate and truthful. The challenge for Pettlon is to take an ugly set of facts and spin them as positively as possible. In one specific respect, he tries a little too hard.
In the second paragraph of the letter, Pettlon confirms that the child suffered a broken arm, and Pettlon claims that the “investigation was closed with nothing about the injury to suggest it was anything but an accident.” Later in the letter, Pettlon claims that the district attorney “reviewed all the evidence . . . before he declined to prosecute either party in this case.” These contentions ignore the fact that the district attorney public declared that he believes a crime was committed against the child, and that the decision not to prosecute resulted only from an inability to prove conclusively who committed the crime.
No matter what Pettlon now says, the district attorney would have charged Hill and/or Espinal but for an inability to prove that one or the other committed the crime. The audio potentially changes that analysis, or at least possibly emboldens the district attorney to charge both of them and let the jury sort it all out.
There’s a separate problem for Hill. Pettlon wrote to Friel not to exonerate Hill in a court of law but in an effort to minimize Hill’s potential punishment under the Personal Conduct Policy. The final decision will be based in large part on whether the Commissioner finds Hill to be a credible witness, whether Espinal will cooperate with the investigation, and whether she will implicate or exculpate Hill.
The fact that Hill’s lawyer seems to blame Espinal for criminal conduct could embolden Espinal to blame the broken arm and other instances of potential abuse on Hill. Under the reduced standard of proof that applies to NFL disciplinary cases, it wouldn’t take much to trigger a ruling that Hill violated one or more provisions of the Personal Conduct Policy. And, as a practical matter, Hill’s admitted history of choking and beating Espinal while she was pregnant with the child will not cause the league office to view the evidence in the light most favorable to Hill.