Dan McGuane kept waiting for his past to catch up with him again. He knew it would. He just didn't know when, or how, or exactly what would happen when it tapped him on the shoulder once more, reminding him that it had always been right behind him, waiting for the right moment to step up and pull him back to the summer night in 2005 when he and his twin brother killed a man in the streets of Ayer, Mass.
He'd been waiting ever since he first got the call, the one that came through while he was on vacation in Maine. It was his manager, Bill Murphy, saying he had an offer from Bellator. They wanted McGuane to fight a light heavyweight named Mike Mucitelli in Rhode Island in November. Mucitelli was 3-0 as a pro, the same as McGuane. McGuane hadn't fought in more than a year, but this seemed too good to pass up. Bellator would be the biggest organization he'd ever fought in by far. An undercard fight there seemed within arm's reach of the big time. He took the fight right away.
It was a week or so later, when he and his manager were ironing out the details of the contract, that he had to go through the familiar dance of telling a prospective employer about his felony conviction for involuntary manslaughter and the five years he'd spent in prison for it.
"I'm always honest about it," the 28-year-old McGuane told MMAjunkie.com (http://www.mmajunkie.com
). "I let everybody know even before I go to a gym or start training with somebody new, because I don't want them to be uncomfortable with it."
Bellator signed him anyway. Nobody said a word about his criminal record. Weeks later, when Bellator began taking heat for promoting a heavyweight fight featuring Brett Rogers, who'd served 60 days for third-degree assault on his wife, McGuane waited for his name to come up. It didn't. Maybe the past would stay in the past, he thought.
Then one night as he was leaving the gym he got another call, this time from his brother.
"He said, 'Have you checked your Facebook page lately?'" McGuane recalled. He hadn't. There were new comments on there, his brother told him. People calling him a murderer, a killer, that sort of thing.
"I was a little surprised, because that hadn't happened in a while," McGuane said. "Then he told me about the website."
All he needed to do was look at the url – BanDanMcGuane.com – to know where this was headed. When he checked it out for himself, it was everything he'd feared. Soon it was on all the MMA blogs. McGuane called his manager, who urged him not to freak out. They'd been upfront and honest about it, he reminded McGuane. Everything would be fine. Less than an hour later, he called back and said he'd spoken to Bellator officials.
"He told me, 'Dan, they're cutting you from the fight,'" McGuane said. "My heart just sank."
The past had caught him again. It wasn't through with him yet.
Paying in blood
The fight started and ended quickly on July 2, 2005. In Ayer, a town of 7,400 about an hour outside of Boston, the fireworks display was just wrapping up. Kelly Proctor, a 19-year-old freshman at nearby Nichols College, was walking home with his girlfriend when they passed the 21-year-old McGuane twins, Dan and Peter.
If you grew up in Ayer, as Proctor had, chances are you knew a little something about the McGuane brothers. In newspaper reports after the incident, they'd be described as bullies by some, and popular kids from a well-known Ayer family by others. They were standout athletes at Ayer High School who had gone on to briefly play college soccer at Fitchburg State College, where they gained reputations for both their playing ability and their aggression on the field.
"They were hyper," Fitchburg State soccer coach Helder Botto told the Boston Globe after their arrest. "They were always high-strung."
One former classmate told the Globe he intentionally left the fireworks display early that year, specifically to avoid running into the McGuanes, who each hovered around 6-foot-3 and weighed somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 pounds. Another former classmate, Jihanna Arrington, told the paper that "Pete was the talker, Dan was the muscle. Dan was meaner, but everybody knew who both of them were."
It was Peter who first exchanged words with Proctor, a 5-foot-8 football player for the semi-pro Lowell Nor'Easters who had attended nearby Nashoba Valley Technical High School. According to court records, it started after a member of the group that was with the McGuane brothers laughed as Proctor and his girlfriend passed by. Proctor asked her what they were laughing at, and soon he and Peter were arguing face-to-face. What happened next was a "very tragic, unfortunate event," according to Dan McGuane.
"That night, the kid said something to my brother and my brother and him started arguing," McGuane said. "The kid spit in my brother's face and went to punch him. My brother slapped him first, and then a wrestling match ensued."
McGuane says now that he got involved only out of concern for his brother, who was legally blind in one eye due to earlier head trauma. He still denies that he ever kicked or stomped Proctor during the fracas. Once Dan moved in, according to Peter's testimony, Proctor's girlfriend jumped on his back and began scratching him, "and then we all just fell like dominoes. Just all – just fell on the curb."
How Proctor ended up lying beneath an SUV is unclear. McGuane says he scooted under the car of his own volition after falling down. Prosecutors would later allege that the McGuane brothers had punched and kicked Proctor until he rolled under the car to escape them. When he and his brother left, Dan said, Proctor was lying under the car, telling his friends to leave him alone, reassuring them that he was fine. By the time friends pulled Proctor out from under the SUV, according to later testimony, he was bloody and unresponsive. When a police officer finally arrived on the scene, he was no longer breathing. His heart stopped. An emergency medical technician made three attempts to get it going again, but failed each time. Shortly after he arrived at Nashoba Deaconess Hospital, doctors made it official: Kelly Proctor was dead.
The popular teenager and former class president was dressed in an immaculate white suit for his funeral service at the New Hope Community Church in Ayer a week later. More than 900 people passed by his casket, according to the Boston Globe. Well after he was buried, the small town still struggled to cope with the tragedy – and the impending trial. Things like this weren't supposed to happen in Ayer.
In nearby Shirley, Mass., Rev. Edmond Derosier was moved to discuss the situation with his congregation at St. Anthony's Parish.
"What makes two young men that angry?" Derosier said of the McGuane brothers, according to the Globe. "I don't know. What I do know is that two families have been so tragically disrupted and for what? God rained down mercy and we've returned blood."
Nothing you're not thinking of
The town of Ayer hadn't had a homicide in more than 25 years when the McGuane brothers were indicted on first-degree murder charges. Those charges were later reduced to manslaughter after a discrepancy emerged in autopsies performed by two different medical examiners. Dr. William Zane – who was later singled out in a "Frontline" investigation that cast doubt on the competency of many medical examiners – originally concluded that the cause of death was blunt trauma to the head, noting a swelling and flattening of the brain. A subsequent exam by Dr. Elizabeth Bundock found no such swelling or flattening, and at trial Zane admitted he had "made a mistake."
What seemed clear enough to the jury, however, was that Proctor had been alive and well until his run-in with McGuane brothers, then died immediately after fighting with them. In 2007, Dan and Peter were convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years and a day in prison. They'd already served two of those years while awaiting trial. Now it was off to do serious time.
"The first month or so, you're just so scared to be in prison," McGuane said. "Everything's going through your mind. There's nothing you're not thinking of."
McGuane served time in six different correctional facilities before being released from the Northeaster Correctional Center in Concord on Jan. 21, 2010. In the years before his release, McGuane said, he took college courses, learned Spanish, and received zero disciplinary reports. He spoke regularly at area schools, warning kids about the unintended consequences of violence.
"I tried to better myself every day, at least as much as I could in there, and I've tried to do the same every day since then," McGuane said.
Fighting through the pain
McGuane first began fight training in 2003, he said, though not seriously. On his 21st birthday, he was jumped by several other men and had his nose and wrist broken, so he decided he'd go back to the gym "to try to keep that from happening again." Even then, McGuane admitted, he already had plenty of experience in unarmed combat.
"Did we fight? Yes, we did," he said. "I wouldn't classify myself as a bully. I'd classify myself as young and stupid. I didn't go looking for fights."
After the McGuanes were arrested in 2005, newspaper reports seized on the number of times police had been called to the McGuane household over domestic disturbances. Their father was a "hard-nosed Irish plumber," according to Dan, and the boys – along with their one older brother and two younger sisters – were taught discipline, although "maybe the wrong way." The local news told stories of all the fights they'd been in while growing up in Ayer, all the kids who'd gone over to their house to play and then never went back after basketball games gave way to bloody lips.
"It wasn't that they were bullies, just that they would get set off pretty easily," one former neighbor told the Boston Globe. "Their tempers were right up there."
Once he was released from prison, McGuane resumed mixed martial arts training first as a form of treatment.
"I realized that it helps, getting to work out and get that stuff out," he said. "It was very therapeutic. ... I used MMA and working out to deal with the PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] that I was diagnosed with from my childhood."
If it had stayed there, with one man working out his issues in the gym, chances are most MMA fans would have never heard of Dan McGuane. And, if by some strange sequence of events they did hear about the small-town man with a conviction for involuntary manslaughter who was now training at an MMA club in Fall River, Mass., with other eager young students, few would have cared. As long as he'd never gone pro, he might have retained some small degree of anonymity even in the information age.
So why blow that by trying to fight for a living? Why couldn't he see that, with his past, it was perhaps the one sport where his participation alone might spur outrage?
"Originally, to be honest with you, I started fighting because I couldn't find a job," McGuane said.
It wasn't that he wasn't looking for other work, or even that he couldn't get noticed by potential employers. He applied all over New England, and he kept coming so close. He'd get a call back, the interview would go well, and then they'd tell him there was only the small matter of the background check. You can imagine how it went from there. McGuane would tell them about his felony conviction, mention the words "involuntary manslaughter," and the job would vanish.
And so in August of 2010, a little less than eight months after being released from prison for a fight that left one man dead and two families in shambles, McGuane made his professional debut in Brockton, Mass., winning by first-round guillotine choke. He won two more fights the following year, but he also found a full-time job as a warehouse manager for a mechanical contractor. His brother Peter works for the same company as a purchaser, and both are extremely grateful to have the jobs, McGuane said.
That's why McGuane wasn't exactly itching to fight when he got the call in 2012. He was busy working, trying to scratch out some sort of lasting career for himself, "but when I was offered the opportunity for a Bellator fight, I jumped at it," he said. "I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."
What McGuane didn't realize was that, shortly after Bellator had announced his participation in the Bellator 81 event on Nov. 16, someone who knew his history in Ayer had caught wind of it through an MMA gym in Boston. That led to the creation of the anonymous group that started BanDanMcGuane.com with the help of a small marketing firm, according to a statement emailed to MMAjunkie.com by the website's administrator. The group insisted on remaining anonymous, the statement said, because "Dan and his family's reputation is enough that no one was willing to come forward. Our only goal was to prevent Dan from being given the spotlight for his 'skill set' that killed our friend, Kelly Proctor, just a few years back."
McGuane has his own theories about who is behind the website. He believes his scheduled opponent at the Bellator event – Mike Mucitelli, who is featured prominently on the BanDanMcGuane.com homepage, and who defeated a replacement opponent at Bellator 81 via first-round armbar – put up the website to avoid the fight (requests for comment from Mucitelli went unanswered). According to the emailed statement from BanDanMcGuane.com, that accusation "just goes to prove that Dan has not taken responsibility for his actions and does not seem to have the ability to believe how many people his actions had an effect on."
"Our support of [Mucitelli] was not a priority until we received an email from someone pointing out that what we had done was great but we failed to realize what an effect this would have on Mike," the statement read. "We put our support behind him to make up for potentially costing him an opportunity with Bellator."
For its part, Bellator officials told MMAjunkie.com that McGuane had indeed disclosed his conviction before signing with the organization, but that disclosure had gone unnoticed by the higher-ups in the company due to the sheer number of new contracts the organization had inked around the same time. Once Bellator officials read about McGuane's crime on MMA blogs, according to one Bellator employee who did not wish to be named, the decision to release him was made "pretty much immediately."
These days, when McGuane talks about the fight that changed his life, he does so with a strange mix of indignation and remorse. He'll tell you all about the discrepancies with the two autopsies, the failed appeal, the questionable descriptions in the police report and the inconsistencies in witness testimony. He bristles at suggestions that he and his brother had a running feud with Proctor, or that they even knew him well before the night of the town fireworks display. He claims many of the former classmates who painted him as a bully in newspaper reports later wrote to him to apologize.
Listen to him long enough, and McGuane starts to sound like a man who believes he was wrongly convicted, except that he doesn't. Despite all the flaws he finds with the criminal proceedings and the depiction of the McGuane boys as the "evil twins" of Ayer, he thinks he and his brother both deserved to do prison time for Proctor's death.
"The fact of the matter is, someone died," McGuane said. "As tragic and as unfortunate and as accidental as that was, someone had to take responsibility. We believe it was from us, from our actions, that led to it. It was unintentional, but it happened. ... Now that I did my time, it's about what I can do to better myself. It's a constant battle every day to better yourself and not let the past affect you. And it affects you all the time."
Losing the Bellator fight was a minor consequence, McGuane said. It was an opportunity he hadn't really expected in the first place. As frustrating as it was to train for a fight that never happened, it's nothing compared to what he and his family felt at having the old wound reopened on the Internet, where the past can always be dredged up again in one Google search.
"It was like nobody wanted to hear anything I've done since then," said McGuane. "They just weren't interested. I mean, I was called a 'deplorable scumbag.' People were on the Internet saying I was convicted of murder, and I wasn't. But, you know, I've done the same thing. Before I went to prison, I had read articles about people convicted of crimes and thought, screw this s---bag, he deserves whatever he gets. I think we've all done that."
One thing you get used to after being released from prison is getting reminded that while you may view your sentence as something you've already completed, in the eyes of others the book isn't so easily closed. Your past becomes public property, in a sense. Everyone assumes the right to have an opinion on it, and often enough they're of the opinion that you don't deserve to be free of your crime just yet. It goes from being something you did to something you are. The worst mistake of your life is now a part of your identity that you must drag around behind you. This, too, is part of your punishment.
For McGuane, what really hurt was that he'd inadvertently made his twin brother and their family relive that mistake, and all because he'd accepted a fight offer from Bellator. It was like what had happened when he was first arrested.
"The hardest thing to deal with in prison was what was happening to my family on the outside," said McGuane, who acknowledged that despite a rocky home life at times, he and his father now "have a friendship" that they didn't have when he was growing up. While he was locked up, McGuane said, his sisters were picked on in high school, his father's plumbing business was vandalized and his older brother, who had just returned from his second tour in Iraq, heard whispers everywhere he went in his hometown.
There's the murderer's brother, people said. Not, there's the war vet, home from serving his country.
In trying to get himself an MMA fight, McGuane had brought all that back up again. His fighting career hadn't been all that much to begin with, but after this?
"To be honest with you, it's probably over," McGuane said. "I'm not going to drag my brother's name and my family's name back through this again just so I can get in a ring and fight. I like the training and the competition. I like the guys I train with. To get up there and compete ... I love that. But I love my family more. I'm not going to put them through what they went through eight years ago."
As for Proctor's family, they did not respond to requests to be interviewed for this story. In a 2006 Boston Globe article, Karol Proctor – the victim's mother – told a reporter that she still saw the McGuanes' mother "all the time" in the small town of Ayer.
"I know she sees me, too, but she won't look at me," Proctor said. "She just stares straight ahead."
McGuane would like to speak with Proctor's mother, he said, but is legally prohibited from contacting her. As much as he'd like to offer her an apology, McGuane said, "I highly doubt she wants to ever see me or talk to me, and I have to respect that. If my brother died that night, I don't know that I'd want to talk to Kelly."
In the emailed statement from BanDanMcGuane.com, the group said it had heard complaints that by rallying for McGuane to be pulled from the Bellator card, it was denying him the opportunity to get on with his life after serving his prison sentence.
"Some opponents of our movement have told us that people deserve second chances," the statement read. "As soon as Kelly Proctor gets his second chance, Dan McGuane can have his."
Of all the ways to make some money and get a therapeutic workout, why did it have to be fighting? Why did he have to go and do the one sport that would remind us of the uncomfortable connection between the thing people to do to hurt each other and the thing other people watch as entertainment? Why couldn't he have guessed that of all the ways the world might be ready to let him move on, this wouldn't be one of them? And, as long as we're asking questions, why couldn't he and his brother have kept to themselves that night at the fireworks display? Why couldn't everything have been different with just a few different choices, all of which seem as obvious now as they are impossible to make? How can the past be so permanent and unchangeable, like a map that tells you where you can go based on where you've already been? How can it be that the past is never really through with you, no matter how much you tell yourself that you are through with it?http://mmajunkie.com/news/2012/12/the-banning-of-dan-mcguane