OSU's Collins Pleads Guilty To Aggravated Sexual Assault

Wednesday, November 7th 2007, 10:40 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) The sentencing phase of an aggravated sexual assault case against an Oklahoma State linebacker began Wednesday, one day after he pleaded guilty to the crime against a 12-year-old girl.

Chris Collins Jr., a 6-foot-2, 235-pound sophomore starter for the Cowboys, made the plea in New Boston, Texas, after a seven-man, five-woman jury was seated for his trial, Bowie County District Attorney Bobby Lockhart said in a statement.

Lockhart said prosecutors made no plea deal with Collins.

``I think the defendant's hopes are going to rest with the jury to convince it he's eligible for probation, but that's going to be for the jury to make that decision because there's no deal with the state,'' District Attorney Lockhart said.

``I guess we're content or pleased with the fact of defendant's plea of guilty and look forward to putting on the punishment evidence this morning,'' Bobby Lockhart said.

A woman answering the phone at the office of Chris Collins' attorney, Paul Hoover of Texarkana, Texas, said Hoover was in court on Wednesday. Paul Hoover did not immediately return a phone message left at his office by The Associated Press.

Oklahoma State athletic department spokesman Kevin Klintworth also did not immediately return a phone message left Wednesday morning by the AP.

Chris Collins, now 20, was one of four men charged in a crime that allegedly occurred during an after-prom party in May 2004, when he was 17. An affidavit in the case indicated the girl said she could recall Chris Collins being on top of her and kissing her neck, and contains a statement from one of the other men charged in the case that he saw Collins and the girl having sexual relations.

During the punishment phase of Chris Collins' trial, jurors listened to the evidence that prosecutors would have presented, and also heard from Collins and four character witnesses he called two of his former high school coaches, his mother and a pastor, said Lisa McDermott, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Lockhart's office.

The character witnesses all said that committing such a crime would be out of character for Collins. Chris Collins testified that the girl had told him she was 16, which the girl has denied.

The jury will begin deliberating after final arguments are made. Lisa McDermott said there is no way to gauge how long the jury would take to consider Chris Collins' punishment.

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy was not one of the character witnesses called by Chris Collins.

Aggravated sexual assault of a child is a first-degree felony in Texas, with a possible prison sentence ranging from 5 to 99 years or life in prison, Lisa McDermott said. However, because Chris Collins is a first-time offender, he is eligible for probation.

Of the other three defendants in the case, only one, Jabari Jackson, has been through a trial, and that resulted in a hung jury. Jackson will be retried in March, Lisa McDermott said. The other two defendants are brothers and will be tried in February, she said.

Chris Collins, who hadn't played since his junior year of high school, was the Cowboys' leading tackler through six games last year before an injury forced him to miss the second half of the season.

He had also missed Oklahoma State's last five games of this season before returning Saturday to record five tackles in a 38-35 loss to No. 14 Texas. He has 31 tackles in five games this season.

Chris Collins had originally given an oral commitment to Texas, but Texas coach Mack Brown pulled the scholarship offer after Collins was arrested in 2004.

Mack Brown said during Big 12 Conference Media Days in July that ``Chris is a great young man, and I'm sorry for all the young people, the young lady and young guys involved because it's a life-changing experience. You're talking about one night changes your life. Whether it gets settled tomorrow, the next day or next year it's changed his life.''

Also during Big 12 Media Days, Mike Gundy defended his choice to offer Chris Collins a scholarship while speaking with The Oklahoman.

``I don't think there's any doubt Chris would say he made a mistake, and I don't agree with what happened,'' Mike Gundy said. ``But we gave a young man an opportunity to make up for something, because of the investigation we did over the phone.

``I'm a believer that he made a mistake and he deserves a second chance. I'm not siding with anybody or anything. He had an opportunity to come and do the right thing in Stillwater. If he did, he could be part of what we want. It's really pretty simple from that standpoint. I'm not siding with anybody.''