We're in a unique county in Ohio," says Detective Franz. Anywhere else in the state, Mr. Cotton probably would have had to plead to a felony. It was a date rape, but the victim was credible. Like many victims, she was intimidated at first by the process. But we did our job, and she hung with us."

Shannon Smith says she heard about Cotton's legal woes in Cleveland, but didn't know any of the details. She recalls feeling no particular concerns about going to Marcus Cotton's house with two girlfriends in the early morning hours of July 6, 1991.

MARCUS COTTON'S Fourth of July parties in Paradise Valley are renowned among the Valley's black athlete crowd. The booze flows, the music is hot, the food is tasty and the house is big and beautiful.

In the early morning hours of July 6, Shannon and two girlfriends drove to Cotton's home. Shannon says she was tired, but agreed to tag along for what she expected would be a short visit. The trio arrived around 2 a.m., and found about 25 people-most of them drunk-still partying hard.

Shannon's version of what happened next: A guy Shannon calls Eight-Ball-Leonard Russell, a former ASU running back and now a budding NFL star-dunked her in the pool. She went inside the house to dry off. Cotton soon gestured at her from the pool area to toss him a towel.

She didn't mind doing that, but then he grabbed her, threw her into his pool and jumped in after her. He was holding me in his arms in the water," Shannon says. He tried to kiss me. I said, `Stop.' He said, `What's the matter?' `I don't like you, Marcus.' He pulled off my shirt.

Nobody could see what was going on, except for this fat guy I'd never seen before. Marcus pulled my shorts to the side and tried to have intercourse with me for a few seconds. I kept saying no, no, no. Marcus told his friend to lock the doors to the house. He's so big and he had this crazy look. He said if I peeped he was going to throw me into the party buck-naked. He pulled my shorts down. Things were happening so fast. I didn't know what to do."

Shannon isn't certain-Things were blurry"-but she believes Cotton carried her naked up a flight of stairs, out of view of the partygoers. No one knew where Marcus had taken me," she says. This is blurry. The girls I was with didn't know where me and Marcus stood. They just figured I had gone off with him on my own."

In his bedroom, Shannon says, Marcus had his way with me. I tried to talk to him. I heard that when someone attacks you, you should just talk to them about anything to bring the human aspect back to them. But he just said, `Shut up and give me head.'"

Cotton then forced her to have sexual intercourse with him. The more I screamed when he was doing this the more excited he got," she recalls. He put all his weight on me. He threatened to throw me over the balcony. I was scared and I basically complied."

After he was done, Cotton ordered Shannon to shower. She says she rinsed off and wrapped a towel around herself. Cotton was holding a video camera when she came out of the bathroom, Shannon says, and yanked the towel off her. Cotton then fetched her clothes. Distraught, she went to wake her sleeping girlfriends and leave.

Cotton's housemate, Terry Hicks, says he bumped into Shannon as she walked down the stairs. It was like nothing happened," Hicks tells New Times. She didn't say anything about Marcus attacking her. She wasn't screaming. The first thing I said to her was, `You complain about athletes all the time and here you are, back over here.' I would always tell her, `You're being used and abused by these guys,' but she'd never listen."

Shannon's version of her conversation with Hicks is far different: I was coming out of Marcus' room when we bumped into each other. I had tears in my eyes. I was whimpering. He just kind of stuttered something to me and he left. That was it. He saw how upset I was."

What happened in Cotton's bedroom is known only to Marcus Cotton and Shannon Smith. But how Shannon behaved after her alleged rape is crucial to her credibility. Her friend Denise Brooks recalls the moment vividly.

She woke me up and said, `Hurry up, we have to get out of here,'" Brooks says. She was shaking. Something was very wrong with her. After we left, she told me everything that had happened. I was so mad at her. `Why didn't you holler and scream?' She told me she was terrified to death of what Marcus was going to do to her. We talked about her calling the police and she wanted to."

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.