Former NFL player Kellen Winslow Jr. pleaded guilty Monday to raping an unconscious teen in 2003 and to sexual battery involving a 54-year-old hitchhiker in a deal that spared him the possibility of life in prison.
Winslow initially hesitated and seemed to agonize over his decision.
He asked the judge for more time before he finally entered the guilty pleas moments before he was about to be retried on six felonies including kidnapping, sodomy, forced oral copulation and two charges of rape in San Diego County Superior Court that could have sent him to prison for life if he was convicted.
In exchange for his plea, the court agreed to sentence him to between 12 and 18 years in prison for the two charges and dismiss the others.
In June, the jury found him guilty of the attack last year on the homeless woman in his picturesque beach community of Encinitas. Jurors also convicted him of two misdemeanors — indecent exposure and a lewd act in public — involving two other women.
But after six days of deliberation, jurors said they were hopelessly deadlocked on the other criminal charges, including the alleged rape of the hitchhiker and the rape of the unconscious 17-year-old girl in 2003 when he was 19, prompting the judge to declare a mistrial.
The 36-year-old former tight end — at one point, one of the highest-paid in the NFL — initially pleaded not guilty to the charges, but on Monday, Winslow changed his plea to guilty of rape of an unconscious person and felony sexual battery and waived appeal rights for his previous convictions. The remaining charges were dismissed.
“Your honor, I would like to waive my right to a jury trial,” Winslow said.
At one point, Winslow could be heard saying, “I’m not thinking clearly.”
The judge then asked Winslow if he was sure, to which Winslow said he needed “a couple of minutes.” Eventually, Winslow accepted the plea deal.
Defense attorney Marc Carlos said Winslow made a difficult choice to accept the plea deal.
"The downside of any conviction would land him in prison for the rest of his life, and he made this decision based upon his family, his father, his children, and he wanted to be there for them in the future," Carlos said.
Five women took the witness stand this summer, and three of them were expected to testify again before his change of plea.
“I’m satisfied that now Mr. Winslow’s been held accountable for his conduct involving five separate victims over the course of 15 years,” Deputy District Attorney Dan Owens said after Winslow’s change of plea Monday.
A judge said Winslow would face at least 12 years in prison as part of his plea deal.
“The victims are supportive of this kind of resolution,” Owens said.
Previously, Winslow faced a maximum sentence of life in prison, but Monday’s deal would lessen that maximum sentence to 18 years in prison.
“I pray to God for 12 years, so I can return to my family,” Winslow said.
Winslow will be sentenced on Feb. 19, 2020.
"In addition, he is going to be a mandatory lifetime sex offender registrant. That is a mandatory requirement for each of the charges for which he's been convicted,” Owens said.
As part of his plea deal, Winslow could "face a possible commitment as a sexually violent predator to an indeterminate term for the rest of his life into a state hospital if he is found to meet that criteria," Owens said.
That aspect of the plea deal will not be determined until Winslow is eligible for parole upon his potential release from state prison.
"He will not be automatically released into the community until he has been evaluated by two psychologists appointed by the state," Owens added.
He may also face a life parole term, Owens told NBC 7.
By 2 p.m., the jury was dismissed from the San Diego County Superior Court.
Winslow, who played for Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New England and the New York Jets, earned more than $40 million over 10 seasons in the NFL. He is the son of Chargers Hall of Fame receiver Kellen Winslow, who was in the courtroom throughout the first trial.
The defendant did not testify at his first trial.
Winslow has been held in custody and will be sentenced for the rape conviction after the second trial.
This summer, jurors listened to several days of testimony from five different women who accused the former NFL player of sexual assault and indecent exposure from June 2003 to earlier this year.
Jane Doe 1 said she was raped when a man in an SUV stopped to pick her up as she was hitchhiking in Encinitas in March 2018.
Jane Doe 2 said a man in an SUV picked her up on Vulcan Avenue and raped along Manchester Avenue in May 2018.
Jane Doe 3 said a man exposed himself to her while she was gardening at a residence on Lake Drive in May 2018.
Jane Doe 4 said a man raped her while she was unconscious in a Scripps Ranch townhouse when she was 17 in June 2003.
Jane Doe 5 said a man exposed himself to her on two separate occasions at a Carlsbad gym and began masturbating in front of her in February 2019.
To see a full timeline of events and accusations, click here.