"You know," Abram says now, nestled safely inside his coach's office, "I could sit and listen to that sound all day and never get sick of it." The boy sighs, crosses one beefy arm over another, and settles back into his chair.
Two years ago, Abram Elam, who grew up in Riviera Beach and is still remembered with awe by much of the community there, was a reserve safety on the Notre Dame football team. At six-foot-one and 210 pounds, he was an astonishing specimen, built with a body that needed to move. His torso looked like it was carved by a sculptor's hand; his calves bulged so that when he walked, it seemed as if he were hauling a pair of overinflated balloons with him. He was a highly touted sophomore then, expected to do great things for the Irish.
But trouble, like an old song, was about to make a comeback in Abram's life.
The night started out ordinarily enough. After spring football practice let out, Abram and a few teammates headed to downtown South Bend for a late-night bar run. By 1 a.m., the State was hopping. Easter break was just around the corner, and it seemed everyone was out that Wednesday. Inside the club, Abram ran into Justin Smith, a former Notre Dame safety who had been a sort of mentor to him. But they soon lost each other in the crowd, and Abram spent the rest of the evening mingling with friends.
At closing time, he and his roommate, football player Lorenzo Crawford, decided to stop by Justin's house. When the two arrived, they found Justin in the basement, watching a movie with Lindsay Charles, a Notre Dame junior and a former football manager. Lindsay had a "reputation" around campus, Abram would later say, though he refused to elaborate.
He settled himself on the floor, a few paces from where Justin and Lindsay sat cuddling in an easy chair. Lorenzo splayed out on a couch, near fellow football player Donald Dykes and another girl. When Lindsay and Justin starting kissing, Abram placed his hand on Lindsay's crotch, and his fingers kneaded into the inseam of her jeans. He says he removed them when she didn't respond. Lindsay said in court that she pushed Abram's hand away. But both agree nothing was said.
A few minutes later, Justin and Lindsay retreated to a bedroom. Abram, thinking Lindsay had been "feeling him," went upstairs too. There, he came up behind Lindsay, put his hand on her hips, and began to run his fingertips along her backside. "Don't you have a girlfriend?" she insisted. Abram says he left the room, and Justin would later confirm this. They also say Lindsay was a willing participant in what was about to happen.
But Lindsay tells a much different story.
She would later testify that Abram refused to leave, saying, "Oh no, baby; I just want to make you have an orgasm; I just want to make you feel good," all the while forcing his fingers inside her. She again pushed him away, and he left the room momentarily.
At some point, Justin began to penetrate her, Lindsay says. Lorenzo then tore off his clothes and forced her to perform oral sex, she says, and Abram, who had returned to the room, stripped down to his shorts and began touching Lindsay's breasts. Lindsay says she struggled the whole time, again invoking the name of Abram's girlfriend. This time, Abram left for good.
On his way downstairs, Abram says, he passed Donald, who was on his way up to Justin's room.
An hour or so later, Abram arrived back at his dorm, thinking nothing of the incident. When he saw Lindsay in class the next day, they didn't speak a word.
Five days later, she reported that she'd been raped by four football players.
Abram's hometown is a compact, eight-mile stretch on the southern Atlantic Coast. Just five miles from Palm Beach -- one of the ritziest communities in the country -- Riviera Beach is composed of short, squalid, one-floor houses pushed together like partners in an unhappy marriage. The residents are mostly poor and mostly black, and the town has a crime rate three times the national average.