MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Former Gophers quarterback Phillip Nelson has pleaded guilty Wednesday in the attack that left former Mankato State University linebacker Isaac Kolstad with brain trauma. It’s a deal that could lead to Nelson playing college football again, but it’s also angering Kolstad’s supporters.
In the plea hearing Wednesday morning, Nelson specifically pleaded guilty to fifth-degree assault — a misdemeanor — for his part in a fight that nearly killed former MSU-Mankato football player Isaac Kolstad. In exchange, prosecutors dropped the more serious charges against Nelson.
Nelson arrived at the court house with family and friends. In court, he said it was Kolstad who hit him first, knocking him to the ground. He says he doesn’t remember that night.
In police video after his arrest, Nelson said, “I didn’t strike, I didn’t kick anybody.” But the surveillance video shows he did. After reviewing the video, Nelson said he was ready to admit his guilt to the lesser charge.
Nelson left court without speaking to reporters, but earlier this week, he told WCCO’s Mike Max he is sorry.
“Anyway I can share my experience and have other people learn from my mistake, that would be something I would really look forward to doing,” he said.
Kolstad’s attorney, Kenneth White, said he is disappointed in the plea deal and is pursuing a civil lawsuit against Nelson as well as Trevor Shelley, who still faces felony charges for throwing the punch that knocked Kolstad to the ground.
“Mr. Nelson made the decision to go out that night. He made the decision to drink when he was underage,” White said.
However, the Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott said he had little choice after his own expert witness said it was not Nelson’s kick that critically injured Kolstad.
“This is the best way to proceed,” McDermott said.
Now that the felony charges are gone, Nelson is likely to sign with another college program soon.
Meanwhile, Kolstad’s life will never be the same.
“He will always have deficits because of the injury,” White said.
The maximum penalty for fifth-degree assault is 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Nelson’s sentencing date has been set for Feb. 25, 2015 at 10:30 a.m.
Because he has no criminal record, Nelson is likely to get probation.