GAA star: They accused me of touching the bum of a girl (12) - I was in a Vegas jail for three weeks
A dream trip to Las Vegas turned into a nightmare when a GAA star was locked up for three weeks after being accused of sexually assaulting a 12-year-old girl - a charge that he vehemently denies.
Now home, GAA inter-county star Dean McNally has lifted the lid on his time inside the desert prison - with the prospect of a lifetime behind bars on a trumped-up charge.
At one point the Vegas District Attorney told him he was facing a 10-year stretch and maybe a life sentence.
Despite insisting his innocence, he says he was forced into accepting a lesser charge of `simple battery' rather than spend two years in jail awaiting trial.
A seemingly innocuous 'incident' with a kid dressed up in a bear costume resulted in him being assaulted and then accused of what he described to the Sunday World as "the worst thing you could ever be accused of".
The 26-year-old man from Kildress, near Cookstown, returned from the US six days ago after he cut a deal with the state's prosecutors.
Now Dean - who has been part of Mickey Harte's Tyrone football panel - says he wants the world to know the truth and to thank his local community who have supported him 100 per cent.
"It's been a complete nightmare," says Dean, who's due to get married next year.
"They accused me of touching the bum of a 12-year-old girl while walking down the street.
"It was completely untrue. I was never formally interviewed by police yet there I was in court being told the best I could expect was a 10-year prison sentence."
While happy to be home, he said the nightmare is not over yet as he battles to save his career as a physiotherapist. "I still feel sick about everything. While I was in jail in Las Vegas I was strong, but when I got home I've really struggled emotionally with what has happened." The skipper of Kildress GAA team had organised a 14-strong stag party and was looking forward to his first trip to Vegas. It was on their first full day in the desert sun that the dream trip turned into a nightmare
"It was between 12 and 1pm, the middle of the day and the place was jammed with people," says Dean.
"It was mad, there were people selling stuff and promoting bars and clubs all over the place. People were asking us to have our picture taken with them.
"When they found out we were from Ireland they were hugging us, it was crazy." But what had started as a trip of a lifetime was about to descend into the holiday from hell. "There was someone in a full bear costume standing with their back to us. I had no idea if it was a man or a woman," he told The Sunday World.
"It was busy and I put my hand on their back and said, `what's the craic'. They turned round, but all you could see were the eyes through the costume. "The next thing I know this big man is jumping on my back and then throwing me across the pavement. I thought he must have been on drugs or something. He was going crazy and was shouting `you sexually assaulted my daughter'.
"I had no idea what he was talking about and it took five minutes for me to realise his daughter was in the bear costume.
"I tried telling him he'd made a mistake, but he couldn't be calmed down."
Dean and his friend then tried to leave the scene, but the father followed him for a full 40 minutes.
"He was on the phone to the police and he kept following us. Eventually I walked into the MGM [hotel] and went to security and told them this guy was giving me hassle."
Dean says security held him until the Las Vegas Metro Police arrived around 90 minutes later.
"The police interviewed me informally and I thought when I explained what had happened it would all be over.
"They never recorded any interview and I never made an official statement. They started telling me that when you are in Las Vegas you have to behave yourself and at that point I thought they were going to release me.
"Instead they said I could get out of it if I just apologised to the girl's father. I thought about it but then said `no way'. I wasn't apologising for something I hadn't done. They said then they had no choice but to arrest me."
After sharing a bus to Clark County Detention Centre with hookers and drug pushers, Dean's nightmare continued as he was photographed, fingerprinted and left in a freezing cold cell for 48 hours with no information or contact.
"At that point I thought I would be kicked out in the morning and I'd be able to enjoy the rest of the stag, but one of the guards told me I wouldn't be getting out until I'd seen a judge."
He was moved to another part of the jail where he shared a room with 90 other inmates.
Dean's court hearing wasn't heard until four days later, which is when he first got legal representation from a public defender.
"I was charged with lewdness and I didn't even know what that meant but I knew Nadia [public defender] believed I was telling the truth, which was important."
Even then Dean thought he might make it out in time to catch a later flight home.
"But during the hearing the DA said they were pushing for minimum of 10 years - that's when I knew I was in serious trouble. Up until that point all I had been worried about was keeping my job - now I was worried about my whole life."
With the seriousness of it all sinking in, Dean was moved to the North Valley Complex where he shared a cell with eight others and was handed a sheet which gave advice about how to avoid being raped.
Meanwhile Dean's worried fiance Marie-Claire and his dad Michael had flown out to Las Vegas to support him, and later his mum also flew out.
They set about organising a private lawyer and even found a place to rent for two years in preparation of his trial.
His next court hearing was December 7 and on the day he discovered his lawyer had negotiated a deal which she strenuously recommended he accepted.
"I had no choice but to accept otherwise I could have been in jail for two years waiting for the trial and then still could have been convicted," says Dean, who understandably didn't have faith in the justice system.
"I stood in the court and watched as this judge held my life in her hands. She could have rejected the deal and made me stand trial."
After his release he was held by the federal authorities for a few hours before Dean was told he was free to go and kicked out of the jail at 3am.
"It wasn't the joyous feeling I was expecting," says Dean. "I just felt sick and I still feel sick even though I got back a week ago."
"I want to put this behind me and I want to start work again. My work is investigating it, which I understand because I'm a physiotherapist who works with kids under the age of 18.
"And I want to thank all the people who supported me - they have been crazy good with the support and it means so much."