CORRECTION (7/30/08): The original version of this story wrongly reported that Katoa’s guilty plea would make him a convicted felon who likely couldn’t play for CU. Because the sentence is deferred, Katoa will not have a felony on his record if he stays out of trouble for the three-year term.
A University of Colorado linebacker who assaulted a man while holding a rock in his hand earlier this year pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony menacing with a deadly weapon.
District Judge D.D. Mallard gave Lynn Katoa, 19, a deferred sentence in the crime, meaning the freshman five-star recruit from Salt Lake City could face prison time of one to three years if he gets into any legal trouble in the next three years.
The judge also sentenced Katoa to 60 hours of community service, placed him on monitored sobriety and ordered that he have no contact with the victim, Cameron Shafer.
Katoa, who was suspended from the team and by CU’s Office of Judicial Affairs for the spring and summer semesters following the assault, apologized for his actions during the early morning hours of Feb. 16.
“I’m sorry for what I’ve done and I regret that I ever did it,” he said, standing next to his lawyer. “I just want to take responsibility and be a better person and make a better future for myself.”
After the hearing, attorney Sonny Flowers didn’t have much to say about his client’s plea.
“It’s just an unfortunate situation,” he said.
Prosecutor Phil Davis said in court Wednesday that the attack by Katoa was exacerbated by the fact that he victimized an innocent person.
He said Shafer â who the 6-foot-1, 225-pound linebacker slammed into a wall and struck in the head â had nothing to do with a Taser incident outside the off-campus apartment that prompted the assault.
Davis mentioned in court a letter Shafer wrote regarding the incident.
“He talks about the randomness of the violence and that is my main concern in this case,” Davis said.
Flowers told the judge that Katoa received an indirect shock from a Taser that was fired at a nearby friend, former CU linebacker Justin Nonu.
“I believe the Taser had an effect on his cognitive ability,” he said.
Police said Katoa went into the apartment with a rock in his hand to see whether anyone there was involved in firing it. The man who used the stun gun fled and hasn’t been found.
Witnesses said Katoa pushed a second victim in the head in the apartment, but that person declined to press charges.
Katoa graduated early from Cottonwood High School in Salt Lake City and joined the CU program as the only early enrollee in the 2008 recruiting class.
CU spokesman Bronson Hilliard said he is not at liberty to say when Katoa might come off of his suspension, but he said Katoa does not have the academic credits to play for the Buffs in the fall, although he may be allowed to practice with the team.
Coach Dan Hawkins doesn’t allow convicted felons on the football team, but because Katoa’s sentence is deferred, he won’t have a felony on his record if he stays out of trouble for the three-year term.
That puts him in a position to take to the field in the fall of 2009, barring any further problems.
Katoa’s plea comes just over a week after teammate Riar Geer, a Buffs tight end, pleaded guilty to misdemeanor third-degree assault for punching two men at an off-campus party in March.
Geer, who could get two years in jail, is scheduled to be sentenced next month.