Ex-Minnesota QB Nelson agrees to guilty plea in assault case
MANKATO, Minn. — Former Minnesota Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson has agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge stemming from a fight that left another former football player with a serious brain injury, his attorney said Tuesday.
Nelson had been charged with two felonies relating to the May 11 fight with former Minnesota State, Mankato, linebacker Isaac Kolstad. But Nelson will now enter a guilty plea to fifth-degree assault, which carries a maximum jail sentence of 90 days, his attorney James Fleming said. No date has been scheduled for the plea hearing.
Fleming said three doctors had reported a "lack of medical certainty" as to whether Nelson’s kick caused Kolstad’s critical brain injury, so Fleming filed a motion for dismissal of the charges. Instead, a plea agreement was reached and the two felony assault charges will be dismissed, Fleming said.
A forensic pathologist hired by the defense said an initial punch allegedly thrown by another defendant most likely caused Kolstad’s injuries.
Witnesses told investigators that Nelson shoved Kolstad, a 2013 graduate, after mistaking him for a bouncer who had kissed his girlfriend. Kolstad knocked Nelson to the ground, but as he walked away, a third man punched Kolstad in the head. Surveillance video shows Kolstad dropping to the ground and his head smacking the pavement. Nelson then kicked Kolstad in the head.
Trevor Shelley, of St. Peter, is accused of punching Kolstad in the head and is charged with assault.
Kolstad suffered from a severe brain injury that required emergency surgery. Doctors once feared he wouldn’t live, but he spent months recovering at Mayo Clinic and a specialized rehab facility in the Twin Cities. He has returned home to Mankato, attends outpatient therapy and is able to walk, run and form complete sentences. He hopes to eventually return to work at Fastenal, where he was a sales representative.
Nelson, 21, said in a statement Tuesday that he’s remorseful.
"I still don’t remember what happened that night after I was hit in the head, but I recognize that I let down my family and friends by my actions. I offer my sincere apologies to everyone involved, and I wish Isaac Kolstad the best as he continues in his recovery," Nelson said.
Nelson didn’t respond to a message left with his parents Tuesday. In an interview with WCCO-TV that aired Monday, before the plea agreement was announced, Nelson said he had been working out with a trainer in hopes of resuming his football career.
Kolstad declined comment through his attorney Kenneth White, who said the Kolstad family was disappointed with the plea agreement.
"This case is not simply about a kick in the head. It’s a series of decisions Mr. Nelson made," White said, including underage drinking, becoming intoxicated and "accosting Mr. Kolstad."
White said he expected civil lawsuits to be filed in the future against the defendants.