Phoenix Suns' Kevin Johnson Corroborates That Hug May Have been Too Physically Intimate
UPDATE, September 2015: A Virginia woman has come forward publicly to reveal herself as the 15-year-old girl with whom former Phoenix Suns superstar Kevin Johnson had an allegedly inappropriate physical relationship 20 years ago, a scandal New Times covered in an exclusive series of articles by Paul Rubin. Today, Mandi Koba, now 36, describes how Johnson, now mayor of Sacramento, and his agents paid her $230,000 to keep quiet in 1997, after the incidents surfaced. She describes in a Deadspin article how allegedly protecting Johnson through the years affected her emotionally and that, no matter the consequences, she feels that she must tell her story.
Phoenix Suns fans who were puzzled by the inconsistent play of Kevin Johnson during the playoff series against Seattle should consider this:
Days before the series began, an attorney for a 17-year-old Phoenix girl delivered a letter to Johnson. It demanded $750,000 before 5 p.m. on April 28.
If Johnson failed to cut a check, the attorney warned, a lawsuit would be filed promptly.
"Despite your current, very positive image and persona," civil attorney Kent Turley wrote, "[the girl's] experience with you will cause us to use the theme in any litigation that you were in fact a wolf in sheep's clothing."
Turley described the prospective case against the 31-year-old Johnson in graphic detail. It involved, in his words, "sexual assault and battery" against his client, whom we'll call Kim Adams.
The alleged sexual contacts, Turley wrote, had occurred in the summer of '95, when Kim was 16 and Johnson was 29. He quoted Kim Adams extensively in his demand letter, including this account:
"He [Johnson] said I could sleep in his room or the guesthouse and I chose the guesthouse. . . . We got into the bed and he took all of my clothes off and all of his but his shirt. He was on top of me touching me all over—my breasts, butt, in between my legs, and stomach. Then he took off his shirt. I didn't really know what to do—I was very confused because I thought we were friends, but I didn't know what else to do than to go along with it. . . . He told me to pinky-promise not to say anything and when I asked why, he said I knew why."
In an understatement, Turley concluded that public disclosure of the alleged revelations would be scandalous. The comment was an attorney's attempt to maneuver—some would say strong-arm—Johnson into agreeing to a rapid and secret disposition to the case.
Neither Turley nor Kim Adams claims Johnson and the girl had sexual intercourse; she claims Johnson fondled her genitals on several occasions. If it was done without her consent, such acts could be considered felonies and can call for a prison term upon conviction.
Last January, however, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office reviewed a Phoenix police investigation of the girl's claims and declined to prosecute Johnson, saying the case did not meet the agency's threshold of "reasonable likelihood of conviction."
Could Kent Turley possibly be referring to Kevin Johnson?
This wasn't Magic Johnson, who is said to have bedded more than 2,000 women en route to contracting the virus that causes AIDS.
This was the beloved "KJ," who would rather go to church than to a casino. He is said to curse about as often as it snows in Phoenix. This was Kevin Johnson, a renaissance man who has been the antithesis of the stereotypical self-centered modern professional athlete. This was KJ, whose efforts on behalf of children have earned him awards as one of America's "most caring" people. This was KJ, the all-star against whom the fans' biggest complaints were that he was injury-prone and was too nice a guy.
New Times' repeated requests to interview Johnson were not fulfilled. Fred Hiestand of Sacramento, California, one of Johnson's attorneys, says he is advising Johnson not to talk about the allegations.
Hiestand says the only person at fault in this case is Kim Adams, whom he characterized as mentally unstable and a liar. He rigorously denies any wrongdoing by his client, and says Johnson will never agree to settle any civil claim the girl might make.
But Hiestand concedes that "discussions" with Kim Adams' lawyer have occurred. (Kent Turley extended the April 28 deadline, and said on Monday afternoon that he was scheduled to meet that day with Johnson's attorneys.)
"Kevin doesn't deny that he knows this girl and that he tried to help this girl," Hiestand tells New Times. "I suppose after dealing with hundreds of kids, you're going to run into someone who's going to bite the hand . . . [But] there's no truth to the stuff she's saying . . .
"He has no repressed side. He's no Jekyll-and-Hyde guy."
Adds Hiestand: "He probably never should have dealt directly to help this girl at all. . . . He didn't know that this girl was loony."
Hiestand insists Kim was swayed by a zealous therapist into making exaggerated and spurious claims after, in the girl's twisted mind, Johnson rejected her.
Like the Phoenix police and Maricopa County Attorney's Office investigations that preceded it, a New Times query into Kim Adams' allegations elicited no definitive proof that Kevin Johnson committed a crime.
The most damning evidence against Johnson—indeed, the only evidence against him other than Kim Adams' statements—came from Johnson himself. In July 1996, the Phoenix police sex-crimes unit secretly taped a phone call placed by Kim to Johnson.
Johnson made no overt admissions of sexual wrongdoing in the so-called "confrontation call." A transcript of that call indicates Johnson was wary from the start.
Even then, despite numerous signals that his relationship with Kim had soured, Johnson corroborated parts of her story—including that they'd been alone in bedrooms and that when he hugged her he had been too physically intimate.
Though his attorneys concur that some of Johnson's comments during the confrontation call sound suspicious, they claim he didn't strenuously deny her claims because he was being gentle with a troubled teenage girl.
It may be plausible that Johnson is naive enough to believe that being alone—dressed or undressed—in a bedroom with a teenage girl is appropriate.
But Johnson comes across at times in a transcript of the confrontation call as a man-child with confusion in his soul.
"Can I say something off the record?" Johnson asks at the start of the July 23, 1996, ambush call.
"Sure," Kim replies.
"I miss you bad. I don't like not being able to talk to you. 'Cuz when I was calling, you didn't call me back."
Kim broaches one incident she alleges occurred inside the guesthouse at Johnson's sprawling home on the side of Camelback Mountain.
"Well, I was naked and you were naked, and it wasn't a hug," Kim says.
"Well, I felt that it was, you know, a hug, and you know, I didn't, to be honest, remember if we were both naked at that time. That is the night at the guesthouse?"
"Yeah. . . ," the girl says. "Why would I be upset if it was just a hug?"
"Well, I said the hug was more intimate than it should have been. . . . But I don't believe I touched your private parts in those areas. And you did feel bad the next day and that's why we talked about it."
"Well, if it was just a hug, why were either one of us naked?"
"Again, I didn't recall us being a hundred percent naked."
Kim reminds Johnson of other alleged fondlings during the summer of '95, including a claim that she took a shower with Johnson that night in the guesthouse—an event which, during the call, Johnson never denies.
Johnson's attorneys provided New Times with the results of a polygraph test he passed last August 9, which included the question, "Did you ever engage in any sexual contact with [Kim]?" Such tests are not admissible in most courts, but the results lend credence to Johnson's denials.
Also in Johnson's favor are comments made by one of Kim's former friends—we'll call him Scott—who says she's lying and wants to ruin Johnson because he didn't spend much time with her after the summer of '95.
"She isn't a very truthful person," says Scott, a high school student who says he was one of Kim's best friends until a falling-out last year. "I've been friends with both of these people—[Kim] for a long time and Kevin for a few years. I can't say he's ever lied to me. She has."
Phoenix police sex crimes detective Art Smith asked Kim in July 1996 why she had decided to come forward.
"Because I'm concerned that I may not be the only one," Kim replies.
"Not the only one what?" Smith asks.
"Girl he's abused."
And what did she believe should happen to Kevin Johnson?
"I just want him to learn a lesson," she answers. "I'm not out to get revenge, or like I want him to spend a hundred nights in jail or anything. It's really hard for me, because I still want to think he was the good guy. . . . I could ruin his whole life, everything that he's worked for and I know that. I don't feel good about doing that."
In some ways, Kim Adams is like the many other adolescents Kevin Johnson has taken on as personal projects.
Years ago, he founded the St. Hope Academy in his native Sacramento, a program to help disadvantaged kids. Without fanfare, he started a similar, smaller program a few years ago in Phoenix.
"Nobody's perfect in this world," Johnson's longtime confidant, Fred Hiestand, says, "but I can't think of anybody who has sincerely tried to do good things more than KJ."
Hiestand says Kim's allegations have "hung over him [Johnson] like the Sword of Damocles" and that Johnson and his advisers knew her story would someday be made public.
"We figured that it was just a matter of time before some publication took the [police] report and said, 'Let's tear him [Johnson] down and show him to be a Svengali . . .' We knew it would be someone. We just didn't know who."
Johnson is renowned for his efforts to counsel troubled teens and encourage clean living. In some cases, he's taken teenage boys into his own home to help them turn around their lives.
Kim Adams was never a resident of Johnson's home, although, unquestionably, she spent time there in the summer of '95.
Kim is an only child whose father deserted her mother when Kim was 2. She's a slight, pretty girl with dark, piercing eyes and a friendly but wary manner. She's a few weeks shy of her 18th birthday, but looks younger than her age.
Although she and her mother are moderately well-to-do, Kim is staying at a Valley group home with other troubled girls. She's a senior at a Valley high school.
In the past two years, Kim has had to cope with what appears to be an uninterested mother, bouts of depression that forced her into three hospitalizations, a serious eating disorder, and, if she's telling the truth, a relationship with Kevin Johnson that could be described as bizarre.
Despite this, she says she's an excellent student who wants to pursue a career in medicine, and plans to attend an out-of-state university next fall.
In his demand letter, Kim's attorney claims Johnson was "grooming" a potential victim almost from the start. His nickname for her was "Whiskey," and, Kim told police, Johnson would leave messages saying he "needed a shot of Whiskey . . . referring to me, not the drink."
Johnson's attorneys tell New Times he was just being KJ—guileless and caring, with Kim's welfare his sole concern.
The pair met in March 1995, during a videotaping session arranged by the City of Phoenix. The video's theme was to remind teens about the horrors of handgun violence.
Johnson was the project's celebrity star and, as usual, he welcomed the opportunity to meet youngsters. He and Kim met and chatted.
On May 29, 1995, the day before Kim's 16th birthday, she and a group of friends went to Coffee Plantation in Biltmore Fashion Park.
Johnson was also there. He recognized Kim from the video shoot, she says, and invited her and her friends to his table. The friends told Johnson of Kim's imminent birthday, and he responded by handing her a business card and telling her to call.
Kim says she called and that a woman who answered asked for her address and phone number. Kim soon received a bouquet of flowers at her home, with birthday greetings signed by Johnson.
Within days, Kim says, Johnson introduced himself to her mother. Mrs. Adams told police last July that Johnson told her Kim was teeming with potential. He described his youth programs, and assured her Kim would be in safe hands with him.
Mrs. Adams told police that later that summer, when Kim and Johnson began spending large amounts of time together, she told her daughter that Johnson could be her friend, not her boyfriend.
Mrs. Adams also admitted she didn't know where her daughter was much of that summer, and that Kim never had confided any improprieties on Johnson's part.
According to Kim, she and Johnson began to see each other almost daily as the summer of '95 wore on. They would eat dinner together, go to movies—sometimes with other young people, sometimes alone—and work out at the Q health club.
Attorney Fred Hiestand says the girl is exaggerating the amount of time the pair spent together.
Detective Art Smith asked Kim to characterize the relationship during an August 28, 1996, interview.
"Were you dating?" Smith asked.
"I wasn't dating him. I didn't think of it as dating."
"But were you going out with him and things?"
"Like going to dinner and to movies?"
Arizona Coyotes vs. San Jose Sharks
TicketsSat., Sep. 23, 6:00pm
Arizona Cardinals Game Zone - 9/25 - Not A Game Ticket
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 2:15pm
Arizona Cardinals vs. Dallas Cowboys
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 5:30pm
Arizona Diamondbacks vs. San Francisco Giants
TicketsMon., Sep. 25, 6:40pm
WWE Smackdown Live
TicketsTue., Sep. 26, 4:45pm
"Yeah. Would you consider that dating in a sense?"
"If he was my age. I didn't think of it as dating."
Johnson bought Kim many presents, including bookstore gift certificates, a flute, a Swiss Army knife with his jersey number, "7," engraved on it. He also introduced her to great works of literature, including 100 Years of Solitude and I, Claudius.
He sent her numerous cards and notes. They swapped e-mail messages. By Kim's account, she and Johnson spent hours together at the Q, working out, swimming, sitting in the Jacuzzi, talking about life. Kim's mother told police that Johnson called her daughter almost every day during the summer of '95.
"We did a lot of talking about school and my friends," Kim later told police, "'cuz I was going through a hard time with my friends. And he was really building me up to feel really special. . . . My father hasn't been in my life and I don't have any male figure. Just somebody outside of my family took interest in me and he told me how special I was and how I could do so many great things, and it was really encouraging."
Kim says Johnson told her he wished she was 30 years old, and that Johnson also fantasized that he was nearer her age.
The subject of premarital sex also arose.
"I was against it before marriage, and he was, too," Kim recalled in her interview with police.
That comports with Johnson's public stance on the topic.
"Sex can be treasured as a sacred act," he told a St. Louis newspaper columnist in 1991. "But maybe abstinence is the safest way. There's much virtue in abstinence and I think that's something that we as role models and parents and extended others really need to be preaching to the young people."
Kim says she confided in Johnson that she wasn't a virgin, though records and interviews indicate she probably understated the extent of her sexual experiences.
"She definitely was wild in that area," says her certified therapist, Kristan Larson, "and she viewed Kevin as giving her an opportunity to get away from that kind of life. That's what makes what I believe he did to her so damaging."
Fred Hiestand sees it differently, telling New Times that Johnson bore the brunt of Kim's preexisting emotional and sexual problems after Johnson—in her mind—jilted her.
"He had hugged her one time, and she wanted a kiss," Hiestand says. "And he broke off and realized that she had a misimpression of the hug. . . . And he talked to her about that. He's an expressive guy. He hugs people."
In their conversations, Kim says, Johnson in turn claimed to have dated only one woman since his days at the University of California at Berkeley.
Then, as now, Johnson had several people living with him at his big home, including his teenage half-brother—an exceptional athlete and scholar in his own right. Also in residence were at-risk boys.
Kim says Johnson occasionally invited her to his place, and agrees that most of her experiences there—indeed, the vast majority of her time with KJ—were benign. But her tale takes a momentous turn in describing the alleged event that now has become a powder keg.
And her story raises a troubling question: If Kim Adams is lying and bent on punishing Johnson, why doesn't she simply allege they had intercourse?
"That is a little weird," Fred Hiestand says. "She's screwed up."
Last summer, Kim Adams told detective Art Smith about the night in Johnson's guesthouse—how Johnson undressed her, then himself, and how they touched for more than an hour.
"What happened after the fondling?" asked Smith, a veteran cop.
"We didn't have intercourse. It was just a lot of . . ."
"Did he have all his clothes off?"
"Mm hmm. [Yes.]"
"Could you see his penis?"
"I felt it . . . it was dark."
"Okay. Did you have all your clothes off?"
"I may have had socks on."
"Okay. Did he ejaculate or anything like that?"
"Not that I know of."
"Where did you feel his penis at?"
"Um, my leg and my hand."
"So you just brushed up against it?"
"Yeah, I wasn't . . ."
"Being a man," Smith continued, "I can only reflect from a man's point of view, what would have caused this to stop?"
"I don't know. He went to the bathroom and started a shower . . . and then he came and got me."
Kim claimed Johnson washed her body with a bar of soap during the five- to 10-minute shower.
But she told the detective she never saw or felt an erection during the encounter.
After the shower, Kim said, Johnson made her "pinky-promise" not to reveal to anyone what had just happened. (Fred Hiestand says Johnson says he doesn't know what she means by "pinky promise.") Then, he drove her back to her car, which she'd parked, as usual, at a supermarket at 44th Street and Camelback.
In a narrative she composed for her attorney a few weeks ago, Kim described her state of mind that evening:
"I was very confused because I thought we were friends, but I didn't know what else to do than to go along with it. I tried to remove myself from what was happening. I thought that Kevin knew what was right and would never do something to hurt me."
The next day, Kim and Johnson drove to a remote spot to discuss what had happened.
"He didn't kiss me," she told detective Smith last year, "and I knew that he had told me before that kissing was more intimate than sex. So I just felt really cheap and used. . . . We talk, and he says that he feels really bad about that, 'I feel so horrible,' and he says we both need to pray for God's forgiveness, and he just wanted to know if there was anything that he could do to make me feel better, and I said, 'No, not really.' He just told me he wasn't using me or whatever. Then we were outside [the car] 'cuz he wanted to give me a hug, and he tried to kiss me and I wouldn't let him, because I didn't want it to be like that . . ."
A few weeks after the shower incident, Kim Adams says she again spent the night at Johnson's home.
"We were sitting on his bed just talking," Kim wrote in her narrative, "when he started touching me. He put his hands under my shirt and touched my stomach and then pulled away. He touched me a little more and then said he had to stop because it was bad and [he] couldn't get carried away. I spent the night in the guesthouse and he came in to tuck me in and fell asleep in there. Nothing happened except for after the alarm went off the first time he rolled over and put his hand on my breast and then quickly removed it and rolled back over like he had touched a hot stove."
Kim described two other alleged sexual incidents—one while she and Johnson were parked in the lot of a church, and the other behind a building near 40th Street and Camelback.
She says the latter incident occurred after Johnson called her as she prepared to go to bed, and asked her to meet him. She said she complied with his request that she put on a long sweat shirt. They drove to the former site of Johnson's office and stopped.
"He was on top of me and touching me. . . . Mostly my stomach and my breasts," she told the detective. "I kind of turned myself off and I was kind of just laying there."
As the relationship deepened, Kim said, Johnson's influence on her grew:
"Like one night, I had on a black slip dress, simple, and I had a khaki shirt over it, and he said, 'Oh, I can't look at you. . . . You're hurting me.' He made me feel like I was a slut, and I didn't understand what was wrong with what I had on. . . . He told me that he liked me better with short hair, he told me that he preferred me with less makeup on. Now I think it was kind of weird that he was spending every night of his summer with a 16-year-old girl."
Finally, the summer of '95 ended. Johnson went off to training camp, and he saw Kim rarely after the NBA season began.
"Things got kind of weird . . . ," Kim said of their infrequent meetings during the 1995-96 season. "Before, he would always [be] kind of touchy-feely, not like sexual, but kind of hug me or whatever. Afterwards, he just seemed really distant."
By early 1996, Kim Adams' psychological problems—which predated her introduction to Kevin Johnson—overwhelmed her.
Kevin Johnson's attorneys claim he was the one who suggested she seek professional help. What molester do you know, Fred Hiestand asks rhetorically, who would insist that his victim get counseling?
Kim was hospitalized at a behavioral health center for two weeks that April with severe depression and anorexia, an eating disorder. She contemplated suicide. It was during this time, Kim told detective Smith a few months later, that Johnson "started becoming really interested in me again. He went over to my house a couple of times and talked to my mom and he'd call my mom to see how I'm doing."
After Kim was released from the hospital in mid-April 1996, she told police, she returned to Johnson's home for the first time in months:
"He came and picked me up . . . and he helped me to figure out what I would take for one of my classes."
Nothing untoward happened during those tutoring sessions, the girl stated. During that time, Kim said, she and Johnson drove to a park for a heart-to-heart:
"He wanted to challenge me, like we wanted to challenge each other with each thing that was the hardest for us. For me, it would be eating . . . he said the thing he was having the most problems with was sex, because he said that he didn't want to have sex. We didn't really get into it because I said that I wasn't ready at the time to make an honest challenge of anybody."
Kim started counseling around this time with therapist Kristan Larson.
"I first met an extremely guarded, very suspicious young woman whose anxiety was sky-high," Larson says of Kim. "It was obvious from the start that KJ was extremely important to her. He was the one person, she said, who knew everything about her. He was a guy who was going to put her through school and always be there for her, a supportive relationship. Everything I had heard about him was he was a great guy.
"Then I found out she had a secret, a pinky promise—his thing to bond them together. He was her mentor, and there was something wrong. But I don't believe in forcing confessions from people, so I let her talk at her own speed. She had lost friends, was distant from her family. I didn't suspect sex at first."
Larson's case notes indicate she did suspect sex as early as last July 1:
"Patient reports that [Johnson] is calling her and her family asking her about what she is doing in treatment. She has spoken with him—he told her she has his permission to share whatever she needs to in treatment. Patient hinting that relationship is more than platonic—afraid of repercussions."
Arizona law requires therapists and other personnel with "reasonable grounds to believe that a minor is or has been the victim of . . . sexual abuse" to "immediately report or cause reports to be made" to police or to the state's Child Protective Services agency.
But Larson says Kim had only hinted that there had been sexual acts, so Larson didn't feel compelled to report until she learned more.
Instead, according to police reports, Larson spoke twice to Johnson before notifying authorities about Kim's allegations.
Larson told detective Smith last July 19 that during the first conversation, "[Johnson] basically said, 'Oh, yeah, I care for [Kim], what's best for her, give her anything she needs. I'll do anything for her.' It was superficial and there was not a lot to it."
According to police reports, Larson again spoke with Johnson a few days later:
"I said, 'You know, you wanted to be a part of her treatment, and you said you'd be willing to do anything. She's got something that she said has occurred between you and her and she is uncomfortable talking to me about the details, and I'd be wondering if you would be willing to do that.' And he said, 'Well, what do you know?' I said, 'I don't know a lot. There was some kind of interaction between you two which she found very distressing, and she described as sexual in nature . . .'
"He said, 'Well, yeah, there was an incident that occurred numerous months ago, and it was one incident and I apologized to her and I was just trying to comfort her when she was distressed about something.' . . . I said, 'Well, her perception was that it was a sexual contact.' He said, 'Well, define "sexual,"' and he said it was along the lines of a hug."
Adds Larson in an interview last week with New Times: "It sounded so bizarre. I tried to get him to be more specific, and he kept changing the subject. He said he'd be praying for us."
Larson says she told Kim Adams about the substance of her second and final conversation with Kevin Johnson.
"She was furious," Larson recalls. "It kind of broke her concept of his honesty and everything. I still didn't know much at all, but I knew there had been sexual contact. The reason she never wanted to tell me was that she thought nobody would believe her; she knew he was Mr. Wonder Boy, and she knew she'd lose her friendship with him. She was very much aware of the ramifications, that she'd be ostracized—-but she did it anyway."
In Larson's mind, it was time to report her findings to authorities.
Police use "confrontation calls" as investigative tools in trying to elicit confessions in one-on-one crimes. The element of surprise in the call from an alleged victim to the perpetrator is seen as paramount.
But detectives wouldn't have that advantage as they investigated allegations against Kevin Johnson, because Kristan Larson had unintentionally tipped him off. (Johnson's attorneys say that, even after Larson's somewhat contentious call, Johnson didn't suspect he was being set up.)
However, a transcript of the July 23, 1996, call from Kim Adams to Johnson has Johnson blurting early in the call, "Whiskey, I miss you. That's all I can say."
The remainder of the transcript depicts a stilted dialogue in which Johnson did his own share of confronting. He asks Kim several questions about Kristan Larson's motivations, noting, "What have you told her happened?"
"I haven't told her anything, 'cuz I pinky-promised I wouldn't."
"I mean, what side are you on," Johnson continues, "my side or her side?"
"I'm on my side."
Johnson seems torn between lingering affection for Kim and his own interests.
"Do you think us being naked together or taking a shower was normal, or healthy?" Kim asks him.
"I told you the judgment was not in the best," Johnson responds. "And I'm sorry about that, and, again, I felt we talked about [that] and you're looking at it different than I'm looking at it, and what you're saying happened, I'm not entirely agreeing happened. I'm sorry about that."
The call ends with Kim promising Johnson that she'll call him soon. The pair apparently hasn't spoken since then.
Fred Hiestand admits that, viewed alone, some of Johnson's statements could be cause for concern. But Johnson's lukewarm denials should not be considered an admission of wrongdoing, he says.
"He knew she was very emotionally precarious and he was afraid . . . if he said something to her that was too diametrically opposed to what she's saying that it would push her off the deep end," Hiestand says.
But he also conceded that someone reading that part of the transcript might conclude that in not strenuously objecting, Johnson might be seen as confirming some of the girl's claims. "Yeah, I'm not going to deny that, if you just excerpt that one statement," Hiestand says. "But there's much more to it . . ."
Despite Johnson's telltale responses in the confrontation call, the call failed to garner enough solid data for detective Smith to recommend prosecution.
"At this point in the investigation," Smith noted in a report last July, "there is not enough evidence to proceed with a criminal complaint, lacking the physical evidence and a successful confrontation call . . ."
Interestingly, in his April 17 letter demanding $750,000, attorney Kent Turley employs detective Smith as leverage in his attempt to expedite an out-of-court settlement.
"As recently as three weeks ago," Turley wrote to Johnson, "detective Art Smith told me . . . he had no doubt that sexual contact occurred and believed that a civil claim with a lower burden of persuasion [than the criminal court burden of reasonable doubt] would have merit."
Smith was unavailable for comment, but his sergeant, Russ Wilson, said he "very seriously doubts" Smith made such a statement. Turley tells New Times that he stands by his avowals.
The case seemed to be dead, and police hadn't even tried to interview Johnson. It's uncertain why the Phoenix police reopened the case in January. But reports show detectives tried unsuccessfully to contact Johnson for an interview.
In response, the police heard from vaunted Phoenix attorney Mike Kimerer, who proclaimed Johnson's innocence while declining to make him available for an interview.
The police also tried to interview Kim's teenage friend, Scott. (Scott was willing to be identified in this story, but his name has been changed to protect Kim's true identity.) Kim had told detective Smith in July 1996 that Scott knew details of her alleged entanglement with Johnson:
"He just knows something happened, and [that] we didn't have intercourse."
A detective contacted Scott last January 22, but, according to her police report, he was uncooperative. The detective tried to recontact Scott that day, but the teenager didn't return her call.
Instead, Scott tells New Times, he phoned Kevin Johnson.
"I didn't call him to ask him what I should do," Scott says, "but I thought it was the right thing to do because I don't believe what [Kim] is saying happened. He didn't put any pressure on me at all. I'm not going to lie for anybody."
Scott met on February 25 with two of Kevin Johnson's attorneys—Mike Kimerer and Kevin Hiestand (Fred Hiestand's son)—for a taped interview.
Scott told the attorneys that he, too, had become friendly with Johnson—"We would go out and play basketball a few times, and then we started getting together and having breakfast . . . just Kevin and I."
He said his friendship with Kim had ended months earlier for unspecified reasons. Scott said Kim hadn't told him of any sexual activity between her and Johnson until just before he went, at Kim's request, to meet with her therapist Kristan Larson.
That session occurred in late August 1996, shortly after the Phoenix police case had stalled.
"I don't even remember how [Kim] put it," Scott told Johnson's attorneys, "but they had sex, something sexually happened between them and he really screwed her up. . . . And so we [Scott and Larson] went in there and we talked. I mean, Kristan talked most of the time for [Kim], just talking about how Kevin and Kim had some sexual contact, you know, oral sex . . . and that [Kim] had a lot of problems [that] came out from that and that's why I was there, to give support for her."
The mention of "oral sex" is puzzling: Neither Larson nor Kim ever mentions it—not to the police, not in case notes, not to attorneys and not to New Times. If this were a conspiracy to falsely accuse someone, wouldn't Larson have noted the mention of oral sex somewhere, anywhere?
"I follow the thinking on that," Scott says. "I'm just saying I heard that."
Kimerer asked Scott, "Now, you didn't feel you were being sent there [to meet with Larson] to try to get Kevin Johnson or anything. Did you get that impression?"
"Once I got there."
Scott said that some time before the meeting with Larson, Kim had told him she and Johnson had engaged in sexual intercourse.
"Would you say that [Kim] is a person that you believe has a reputation for kind of stretching the truth a lot?" Kimerer asked him.
"Yes, oh yes. Very."
Larson tells New Times she's disappointed by Scott's view of Kim's veracity and of his account of the therapy session: "It's not how it happened, and I feel badly for [Kim] that he is betraying her."
In late January, the Phoenix police finally sent the case to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office for evaluation. The prosecutor assigned was Bill Amato, a member of that agency's felony sex-crimes unit. Within a few weeks, according to office spokesman Bill FitzGerald, Amato and his supervisors concluded the case against Johnson didn't cut it as a felony.
In the demand letter, Kim Adams' attorney wrote to Johnson:
"[Amato] told me that the county wanted more independent corroboration of sexual misconduct before prosecution. He simply did not think they had sufficient evidence to convict you of a felony, although he did think there was sufficient evidence to convict you of a misdemeanor for contributing to the delinquency of a minor."
However, FitzGerald says that appraisal is wrong.
"Bill [Amato] did talk to the girl's attorney," he says, "but that comment about a misdemeanor conviction is not accurate. Bill did not say whether the case was good, bad or indifferent. He didn't put a quality to it. We sent the case back to the police department, and whatever they did with it is their business."
Phoenix sex-crimes sergeant Russ Wilson says his agency did send the case to the City of Phoenix Prosecutor's Office for consideration as a misdemeanor. Wilson says city prosecutors also decided not to file charges.
If Kevin Johnson sticks to his pledge and retires from the NBA, he'll have left behind a ton of memories for Phoenix Suns fans—nearly all of them pleasant.
In the not-too-distant future, his number 7 certainly will join other luminaries hanging from the rafters at America West Arena.
Long after the recent Seattle series is forgotten, true-blue fans will recall KJ's gravity-defying dunk over Hakeem Olajuwon, the hundreds of Houdinilike assists to Tom Chambers, Charles Barkley, Dan Majerle and dozens of other teammates, his 21 consecutive free throws in the heartbreaking Game 7 loss in 1994-95 to Houston, his herculean effort in the famed triple-overtime game against the Chicago Bulls in the 1993 NBA Finals.
Now, Johnson faces another huge challenge—in the court of public opinion.
Fred Hiestand wants the public to know that his client is a normal guy who hasn't done anything wrong:
"I can say that he's a healthy, red-blooded, American male, and he hopes to find the right wife and settle down," Hiestand says. "There are lots of women who are [adults] who are sending him their photos, tape recordings and letters. . . . If he was interested in any kind of sexual action, he had a lot more attractive offers than [Kim]."
Hiestand says Kim's allegations "put a damper on" all the good things Johnson has done. "Up to now, everything had worked out well for Kevin," he says. "Now, everybody's going to be looking with a jaundiced eye. He's going to have to make changes in his lifestyle.
". . . In the future, what he should probably do is have every kid screened by a psychologist, and if they look like they're deeply disturbed, [he] shouldn't help them," Hiestand concludes.
New Times spoke briefly with Kim Adams last week—she came to the office with her therapist, Kristan Larson.
"All you have to do is to tell me the truth," a reporter told her.
"I am telling the truth," she replied. "Even if it hurts.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Phoenix, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.