Rotten to the Corps: A Question of Justice at Texas A&M

Sunrise was hours away when Zach Corcoran and three friends returned to The Exchange, an apartment complex for students in College Station.

Zach and the others were drunk. The drinking had started at dinner, followed by more drinks and shots in the Northgate district, a strip of bars and restaurants across from Texas A&M University. The only sober person in the group was Leah Cook, who shared an apartment with Katherine Helle.

The drinking continued at The Exchange. Leah and her boyfriend, Reid Ashton, argued in her bedroom. Zach sat in a love seat and slipped on a pair of Leah's sunglasses. Katherine stepped outside to make a phone call.

About 3 a.m., Eddie Helle and his friend Steven Ramirez, both members of the Corps of Cadets, arrived at the apartment. Eddie grabbed a bar stool and sat down.

"Why are you wearing girls' sunglasses," he asked Zach. "Are you gay?"

Zach said no.

"Well, remind me not to sit next to you," Eddie said.

"Okay, that's cool."

"Are you sure you're not gay?"

"Hey man, I don't think you really know me," Zach said.

The mood in the apartment had turned tense, and Katherine grabbed her brother and took him outside. Eddie came back and told Steven they should leave.

Zach stood from the love seat. "I think that would be a real good idea," he said.

Eddie rushed Zach and a fight started. Punches were thrown and the two men grappled, slamming against a wall. A clock fell and smashed on the carpet. Katherine grabbed at Eddie and Zach but was thrown to the ground. The men tumbled and landed between the love seat and a coffee table­.

Steven lifted Zach and pinned him prostrate on the couch. Zach struggled to free himself, rubbing the skin from his elbows and forearms. Eddie hit Zach until he screamed. The left side of his face caved in.

"Chill the fuck out!" Zach yelled. "Look at my fucking face!"

Leah and Katherine pleaded for the men to stop. Eddie stepped back, then Steven. Blood covered the love seat. Eddie and Steven walked out the front door and headed back to the Corps dormitory.

Zach was taken to the emergency room at the College Station Medical Center. He had a concussion, a broken nose and "blowout" of the bones that held his left eyeball in place.

John Corcoran, Zach's father, received the call several hours later. He raced to College Station from Corpus Christi to find Zach at a friend's home. Zach was unconscious, and almost unrecognizable to his father.

John Corcoran stayed with Zach in College Station for more than a week while he recovered. Trisha Corcoran, Zach's mother, joined the family as well. One day, they talked while Zach rested in bed. His father asked, "What do you want us to do?"

"If anything, I don't want those guys to ever wear a ring from A&M," Zach said.

John understood. He attended A&M and had been a member of the Corps. He had sent all three of his sons to College Station. He wore his own Aggie ring with pride.

Those feelings have changed.

Two years have passed since the fight and the Corcorans feel they have seen no justice from Texas A&M University or the Brazos County criminal justice system. They have received few answers as to why Helle and Ramirez have walked away from two prosecutions with no punishment.

John Corcoran believes the two cadets have been protected by the university and the "Aggie network" that he says runs the justice system in Bryan and College Station. He now hopes to find any answers as to why the truth has been hidden from his family.

Zach has little faith any answers will come. He says it hurts to see the way his father has nearly fallen apart since the fight. Zach never believed in "the system" or in justice. He knows the way power and influence works, he says, and in College Station, the Corps rules.

"They protect their own," Zach says. "That's okay, but not against civilians. The enemy, sure, but not against a damn college student."

Early in his career, as a young oil and gas driller, John Corcoran was riding through New Mexico in a rental car with several potential business partners on a scouting trip for well sites. One of the men in the backseat, who was from New Mexico, knew that John Corcoran and the driver were recent grads from Texas A&M. He decided to break the ice with an Aggie joke.

The driver responded, "You know what's bruised and bloody and dumped on the side of the road? The next son of a bitch in this car who tells an Aggie joke."

No one laughed, and John understood. He had spent six years at Texas A&M and four years in the Corps. He rose to the rank of commanding officer of a battalion. He was named to the Ross Volunteers, a unit that acts as honor guard for the governor of Texas. He also served on the Ross Volunteers Firing Squad, a high honor in the Corps of Cadets.

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Paul Knight
Contact: Paul Knight