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VISTA, Calif. – Over the course of two full weeks here, a mountain of damning testimony, evidence and circumstances has piled up against former NFL star Kellen Winslow.
The 35-year-old is standing trial on 12 charges, including seven felonies for the alleged rape of three women and indecent incidents involving two others. He has pleaded not guilty to all.
Alleged victims, corroborating witnesses and stories of perverse behavior have left Winslow facing an uphill battle to avoid spending the rest of his life in prison. While his attorneys have chipped away at the credibility of the accusers and pointed out various inconsistencies in their stories, the totality of the charges and the deviant nature of his acts leave him facing a critical question.
Does Winslow take the stand in his own defense?
Pros, cons of Kellen Winslow taking stand
Defense attorneys who spoke with Yahoo Sports are split on the opinion. While all acknowledge the danger in allowing any defendant, let alone one facing so many serious charges, to testify, the strength of the prosecution’s case may leave no option.
“I would seriously doubt he testifies,” said Craig Mordock, of the New Orleans-based Mordock-Barber law firm that specializes in sexual assault defense. “In a single he said-she said case, he would absolutely be taking the stand. But when there are five counts, he can’t credibly explain away all of it.
“A very good prosecutor will communicate with his voice disbelief with the jury while cross-examining Winslow, ‘So all of these women are lying?’
“It would become about his explanations about why these five women who don’t know each other are all accusing him. He should leave that to his highly skilled attorney [to] make that argument at closing.”
Other attorneys disagree and believe Winslow should tell his side of the story, especially considering the strength of the state’s case.
"A lot of attorneys take the stance of not putting their clients on the stand to testify, but I am the opposite of that, especially in this case,” said Arash Hashemi, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney who has been following the case. “What the district attorney has been doing so far is demonizing him. They took all these different incidents and consolidated them into one big case to show that this guy is a pervert. Going back from high school until now, he has been doing all these things to women.
"In my opinion, he should take the stand, not only because he can testify to the consensual part but also because he'll be humanized for the jury.
“The jury won't just see him as a defendant sitting at the defense table. When he takes the stand and testifies, if his attorneys do it right, he's no longer just what the prosecution portrays him to be. He's a human being with a mother, a father, a brother, a life. That might change some of the jurors’ minds about convicting him or not."
Winslow’s challenge of countering 5 accusers at once
Winslow is accused of raping a 55-year-old transient woman and a 58-year-old homeless woman in separate incidents during the spring of 2018 in San Diego County. He is also charged with the 2003 alleged rape of a 17-year-old girl at a San Diego-area house party. Winslow was 19 at the time. Winslow has also been accused of exposing himself to a 59-year-old woman gardening in her front yard and a 78-year-old woman in the hot tub of a local health club.
The state grouped the charges together, making Winslow’s defense more challenging. Jurors aren’t just dealing with each individual allegation, but a pattern of behavior that paints Winslow as a perverse and dangerous member of society who will likely attack again.
The details of each allegation – some stronger than others – are troubling. The exposure charges are particularly strong, leaving Winslow with few options.
“He can’t be up there saying he likes to expose himself in front of 78-year-old women but he didn’t rape anyone,” Mordock said. “The jury doesn’t care. You can’t explain away just some of the charges.”
That said, left without explanation and counting on the jury all reaching reasonable doubt on all of them, is, itself, a risk. Winslow made some $40 million playing professional football and hails from a prominent local family, his namesake father was a beloved Hall of Fame player for the San Diego Chargers. It makes the fall from grace even more puzzling, and perhaps in need of direct explanation.
Philip Holloway, a legal analyst and criminal attorney with the Georgia-based Holloway Law Group, believes the decision may come down to how well Winslow handles mock testimony sessions this weekend.
“If you feel like you're losing, it's really like a Hail Mary where it's fourth-and-long in a football game,” Holloway said. "Juries always seem to want to hear a defendant say, ‘I did not do it.’ But it's not always the best thing from a defense strategy perspective.
"From my reading of the thing, the jury is going to want to hear him explain himself when it comes to this 17-year-old victim. There's at least a handful of jurors wondering what he has to say for himself because she testified well. She came across as fairly believable."
Other than Jane Doe No.1, they all did. They all took the stand and told their stories about being victimized by the man that prosecutors say is Kellen Winslow II.
Next week we find out if Winslow follows them up the stand and counters it himself.
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