Former Minnesota QB agrees to lesser charge in assault case

Published 5:30 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2015

A former University of Minnesota football player will plead guilty to a fifth degree assault charge as part of a plea deal in a case stemming from a fight in downtown Mankato, Minnesota in May 2014.

Felony charges against Philip Nelson will be dropped as part of the agreement, reached after a forensic pathologist hired by Blue Earth County Attorney Pat McDermott found that Nelson did not cause critical injuries to Isaac Kolstad, a former Minnesota State University linebacker, during the incident.

The fight left Kolstad with permanent injuries and likely ended the college playing careers of both athletes. Nelson, who had transferred to Rutgers earlier in 2014, was subsequently dismissed from that school’s football program.

Nelson had faced first- and second-degree assault charges following the brawl, which began as an argument between Kolstad and Nelson. According to witness interviews introduced into evidence at Nelson’s trial, Nelson mistook Kolstad for a bouncer at a bar who he believed had hit on his girlfriend, Malorie Verhoeven, 19, earlier in the evening. Kolstad was left with a skull fracture and a traumatic brain injury, for which he underwent months of treatment and physical therapy to recover.

McDermott had charged Nelson, then age 20, with first- and second-degree assault, with reports saying he’d kicked Kolstad in the head. Kolstad, then 24, had already been knocked out by a third man, Trevor Shelley, 21, of St. Peter, before the kick, according to criminal complaints.

“I’ve said all along this case has hinged on medical information,” McDermott told the Mankato Free Press. “Now that we have that information, we have to move forward.”

McDermott said he understands the situation has been emotional for everyone involved. Three men changed their lives dramatically in a span of less than 10 seconds, he said.

Kolstad, who can be seen on surveillance video punching Nelson before Shelley punches him, could eventually face a fifth-degree assault charge himself.

Kolstad’s family has hired an attorney, Ken White, who has had input in the plea negotiations.

Civil lawsuits are also possible because Nelson was under the age of 21 at the time and witnesses have told police he had been drinking in at least two downtown bars before the incident.

“We ask jurors to make decisions without emotion and prejudice,” McDermott said. “That’s my job as well.”

In a statement issued by his attorney, Nelson said: “I am saddened by what happened on May 11, 2014. 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.”

The statement from the attorneys also said Nelson had sustained a concussion as a result of being knocked to the ground that evening and is suffering from post-traumatic amnesia and doesn’t have memory of the May 11 incident.

Nelson reviewed the tape of what happened, his attorneys said, and acknowledged what he did.

Nienaber writes for the Mankato (Minn.) Free Press.