Joe would then stash some in his pockets or gym bag for his personal use and drive back to Great Falls, an hour and a half northeast, where he was staying for the weekend and where he, as Montana State's assistant head football coach, had afternoon recruiting trips. " He tried to joke about how she could surely find stray cash in her car -- Melissa had been selling meth nearly as fast as Joe's California supplier could Fed Ex it to him -- but he sensed a nervous energy in her voice.

Meanwhile, Melissa, Joe's partner in drug deals, would haul the rest back to Bozeman, home to MSU, where she would distribute the meth from her campus apartment to her street-level dealers and later divvy up the profits with Joe. "Hey, you're stressing me out," she said."OK," he replied, trying to reassure her.

The moment everything changed, the truth was he'd already lost the job he loved, the reputation he'd built and the friends he'd cherished. He agreed to meet with Matt Collar, the cop from the drug task force overseeing the investigation.

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Joe remembers his parents going at it in the family kitchen in Oakley, Calif., a working-class suburb 40 miles northeast of Oakland, throwing fists and then pots and pans at each other while Joe and his older half-brother Chris (from Diane's previous relationship) and younger sister Autumn watched.

He was scarred by it, and he spent his days as a young boy anxious that his actions, however innocuous, might lead them to brawl again.

Still, back in 2003, the weight of his secrets, one stacked upon another, stacked upon still more, already had strained him for nearly two decades.

And Joe allowed himself there in Buckley's office to see the allure of honesty, the lightened load.

As Joe drove, he kept telling himself that he could sustain the secrets and lies as long as Melissa got on the road. But he couldn't stay mad at Melissa for long, not when a desire for meth overwhelmed his anger at having to wait for it. (Melissa Strain did not answer ESPN's request for comment.)Still, if she were serious about it being over, and serious about him just keeping this latest shipment, he figured he'd have enough meth to last him six months. All he could think was, After his arrest, after his booking in the Broadwater County Jail, after he had to tie an inmate jumpsuit around his waist because nothing stretched over the shoulders of his 6-foot-2, 280-pound frame, after days of screaming headlines and even after his resignation from Montana State, Joe still pushed the idea that he had been set up, that Melissa was out for revenge and that whatever she had told the cops was a lie. Buckley had heard from prosecutors that a drug task force had been monitoring Melissa's distribution chain for weeks if not months.

"I'll bypass Helena," he told her, making her a deal, "and meet you in Winston." It would save her roughly 25 minutes of driving and add about that much to his commute."All right," Melissa said. " he asked."'Cause I don't carry it in here, you son of a bitch! I'm doing you a freakin' favor, driving to Townsend."In an instant she was out of the car and at the trunk, unlocking the hatch and taking out the Fed Ex envelope. So he got out, walked back to Gracie's car, squeezed his way in and peeked inside the envelope. It seemed like 30 guns were pointed at him, the closest held by a female officer who told him now to put his hands up. His lawyer, Dan Buckley, entered a plea of not guilty, his case built on the idea that the cops had little on Joe and, worse, had illegally seized and opened the Fed Ex package. Detectives had detained her the morning of Joe's arrest and she'd agreed to wear a wire to get to Joe.Diane found work at a bar and met a man whom Joe, even today, refers to only as "Brent." She and Brent moved in together. He beat up Diane, beat up the kids, once got so upset about some bathwater that young Autumn and Jason had splashed that he pulled both children out of the tub and, as Joe would later write, "beat their naked little bodies viciously and unmercifully." Haunted by their siblings' screams, the two older boys decided to do something about it.A few nights later, Joe says, after Brent and Diane had gotten high in the family room and passed out, Chris, then 11, leaned close in the basement bedroom they shared and whispered, "Joe, I'm going to kill Brent tonight." He pulled two bricks from under his bed. Joe, 9 at the time, could hear his brother's heavy breaths as he tugged his pillowcase until it was off, placed the bricks inside and began walking up the stairs. The boys reached their mother asleep on the couch, and then Chris climbed the stairway to the second story where he presumed Brent was asleep.Chris rushed down the stairs and out the front door, and Joe followed.Brent stumbled down the steps too, screaming and bleeding profusely from his nose, his face like raw hamburger meat, red and without form.Scott, by then, lived in Pittsburg, Calif., the shabby East Bay suburb where he had grown up.