Crimes of ex-NFL star Kellen Winslow said to be driven by brain injuries

Former NFL star Kellen Winslow possibly suffered more than 1,000 blows to his head during his football career, giving him brain injuries that drove him to commit a series of sex crimes in recent years, according to a statement filed in court by Winslow’s attorneys.

His attorneys detailed Winslow’s mental health in a 22-page statement that seeks to get their client the least amount of prison time possible according to the plea agreement he made last November. Under terms of that deal, he’s facing 12 to 18 years in prison, with a San Diego County judge scheduled to decide Winslow’s punishment at his sentencing hearing March 18.

“Mr. Winslow is not asking this court to give him a free pass based on his status or local celebrity,” said the statement by San Diego attorneys Gretchen von Helms and Marc Carlos.  “He simply wants this court to understand that his actions were influenced by something outside of his control, and order him to serve a reasonable sentence of twelve (12) years in prison, which is within the stipulated range.”

Winslow, 36, has been convicted of five crimes against five different female victims: raping an unconscious teenager in 2003, raping a homeless woman in 2018, sexually battering a hitchhiker that same year, exposing himself to a woman who lived down his street and lewd conduct toward a 77-year-old woman at a local gym.

Former NFL player Kellen Winslow II may be suffering from CTE, according to his lawyers.

According to the statement filed by his attorneys, a clinical psychologist found Winslow had symptoms consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which has been linked to head trauma in football.

“His behavior and emotional states prior to his arrest bear a striking similarity to other individuals diagnosed with CTE after death,” the psychologist wrote. “This includes worsening depression, self-medication with substances… and a rapid increase/escalation of out-of-character, impulsive, and irrational behavior. Given the presence of repetitive head impact during his many years playing football and the presence of clinical symptoms, it is reasonable to conclude that Mr. Winslow’s presentation can be classified as possible CTE.”

His attorneys also cite a 2008 article in the Libyan Journal of Medicine that examined hypersexual behavior in people who suffered brain injuries.

“The article concludes that hypersexuality is a rare but well recognized sequela of brain injury,” Winslow’s attorneys state. “It has been defined as the subjective experience of loss of control over sexuality; and consists of increased need or intense pressure for sexual gratification.”

They argue that a 12-year sentence would reflect “an understanding that Mr. Winslow’s conduct was significantly driven by his suffering from CTE and related traumatic brain injuries.”

Winslow played at the University of Miami before being selected in the first round of the 2004 NFL Draft and earning about $40 million during a career that ended in 2013. Using a conservative estimate of five to 10 “head contacts” during each game of his entire adult career, his attorneys state Winslow would have sustained well over 1,000 blows to his head. They also cite a 2005 motorcycle accident in which he suffered head trauma and a knee injury. His recent conduct, they state, is “not the conduct of a fully functioning Kellen Winslow, Jr.”

Winslow has been in jail without bail since last March as he awaited trial and sentencing. Last June, a jury convicted him of raping a homeless woman, misdemeanor indecent exposure and misdemeanor lewd conduct.

But the same jury hung on other charges, leading to a second trial on the remaining counts scheduled for last November. Winslow then agreed to plead guilty to two additional felonies in a plea deal that was reached before the new jury heard the case. The plea agreement canceled the second trial and helped him avoid the possibility of spending the rest of his life behind bars.

In late January, San Diego County prosecutor Dan Owens made his own argument about why Winslow should be sentenced to the maximum term of 18 years, stating that Winslow committed these “despicable crimes despite being afforded every advantage in life.”

Winslow’s attorneys countered with a series of reports on Winslow’s condition and letters from family. They note he has a son, age 9, and daughter, age 6.

“Their greatest fear is that their father will be incarcerated for a substantial period of time, effectively resulting in the loss of a source of emotional and financial support during a time that is so important to the development of children,” his attorneys wrote. “This loss can be mitigated by ordering Mr. Winslow to serve the reasonable sentence of twelve (12) years in custody.”

Countless people who have suffered head injuries and brain damage don’t commit crimes. But several former NFL players have taken sudden criminal turns in recent years, raising questions about how brain trauma might have contributed to their behavior. Former safety Darren Sharper (serial rape) and former receiver Titus Young (crime spree) both had experienced head injuries.

Former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez also was sentenced to life in prison for murder and later hung himself in prison. A post-mortem examination of Hernandez’s brain showed he had Stage 3 CTE.

“Winslow now understands that he needs psychological counseling to appropriately address his mental health, and he has admirably been receiving weekly treatment with the staff doctors” in jail, his attorneys stated.

Follow sports reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: [email protected]

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