Kellen Winslow trial: Former NFL star faces potential life in prison

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Yahoo Sports
Former NFL football player Kellen Winslow II, second from right, stands behind lawyers Brian Watkins, third from right, and Harvey Steinberg, right, during his arraignment in June 2018, in Vista, California. The former tight end was arrested on charges of rape and other sex crimes, the day he was to appear in court on an unrelated burglary charge. (AP)
Former NFL football player Kellen Winslow II, second from right, stands behind lawyers Brian Watkins, third from right, and Harvey Steinberg, right, during his arraignment in June 2018, in Vista, California. The former tight end was arrested on charges of rape and other sex crimes, the day he was to appear in court on an unrelated burglary charge. (AP)

Jane Doe No. 2 is a 54-year-old homeless woman. Last year she testified that she was walking to a shelter one night when she first met the man who prosecutors allege would later sexually assault her and other women in San Diego County. He pulled up and offered her a ride in his black Hummer.

“Very friendly, very nice,” she testified of her first impressions of the man, who safely dropped her off.

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On May 13, 2018, she said she ran into him again. This time he pulled up to a transit station and asked her if she wanted to go get a cup of coffee. She said yes but soon grew fearful when the Hummer U-turned and went down a dark road. That’s when she said the vehicle stopped and she was raped.

“If you tell anyone,” she testified her attacker said, “I will murder you.”

The name of that attacker? Kellen Winslow II, the retired college and NFL star and son of Kellen Winslow Sr., an iconic, Hall of Fame player for the San Diego Chargers.

The case of Jane Doe No. 2 is just one of the incidents Winslow will stand trial for this week. Jury selection in his trial began Monday in a Vista, California, courtroom.

Winslow is facing two counts of kidnapping with intent to commit rape, two counts of forcible rape, two counts of residential burglary, one count of forcible oral copulation, one count of forcible sodomy and one count of indecent exposure.

The charges, and the alleged incidents they represent, are numerous and disturbing.

In addition to Jane Doe No. 2, Winslow is also accused of kidnapping and sodomizing a 59-year-old transient woman who was hitchhiking when he picked her up in his Hummer. There is also an alleged 2003 rape of an unconscious 17-year-old.

Kellen Winslow II played nine seasons in the NFL for four different teams. (AP)
Kellen Winslow II played nine seasons in the NFL for four different teams. (AP)

Additionally, he faces charges of entering a mobile home where an 86-year-old woman was sleeping as well as an alleged incident where he exposed his genitals to his 55-year-old neighbor who was gardening in her yard.

Winslow pleaded not guilty to all of those charges last year, but in March, while out on bail and awaiting trial, he was arrested again for lewd conduct for touching himself and later the arm of a 77-year-old woman while in a health club hot tub.

He has been incarcerated since. At trial he faces a cumulative sentence that would put him away for life.

Winslow was a major college star at the University of Miami, a talented tight end with a knack for absorbing, even craving, bruising hits. In 2004, he was drafted sixth overall by the Cleveland Browns and over nine seasons in the NFL earned an estimated $40 million in salary alone. After his playing days, he moved back to San Diego, where his family is beloved and he was a high school star.

At trial, his defense could focus on mental illness. That would require Winslow’s defense acknowledging he committed the alleged acts, but seek an explanation that might spare him from incarceration. If that path is followed, it would bring the safety of football, particularly brain injuries at the NFL level, to the forefront.

In the criminal realm, this is the NFL’s biggest trial since former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez was convicted of murder in 2015. It’s not just that Winslow and Hernandez were both young football stars who seemingly had it all – money, fame, accomplishment. It is that an autopsy of Hernandez following his 2017 prison suicide revealed that he suffered from the brain disease CTE.

San Diego is already too familiar with the horrors of CTE following the 2012 suicide of popular former football star Junior Seau, whose brain analysis showed that he suffered from the disease.

Whether Winslow has CTE is unknown. At this time the disease can be diagnosed only post death.

The NFL is desperate to convince young players, and especially their parents, that football is safe to play, but the ensuing weeks of testimony and evidence could have a chilling effect on that effort. While there are only anecdotal, not scientific, links between CTE and violence, and it is Winslow on trial here, it is not difficult to see how the sport itself could be also.

Winslow is facing a challenging defense as he deals with potentially devastating allegations. There are multiple accusers from all walks of life and the uncomfortable stories about incidents involving senior citizens, which juries generally have shown no tolerance. His attorneys have sought to exclude from trial any evidence that he watched pornography, particularly that of “elders.”

The jury that began to get seated Monday will determine whether this NFL star committed these nearly unspeakable acts. Whether there is a connection to that behavior and football could have a far-reaching impact.

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