The attorney for the man accused of shooting and paralyzing Jacksonville Jaguars offensive lineman Richard Collier last year is expected to tell jurors that others also had a motive to pull the trigger and that her client is innocent.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of Tyrone Romero Hartsfield, a 33-year-old ex-convict who had accused Collier of beating him up at a nightclub five months before the Sept. 2, 2008, shooting. Collier was shot numerous times by an assailant who stepped out of the early morning darkness as he sat inside his luxury SUV at an apartment complex with a former teammate, Kenneth Pettway, waiting for two women to return.
Collier was left paralyzed from the waist down and his lower left leg was amputated because of blood clots.
Defense attorney Ann Finnell says several people had problems with Collier and had a motive to shoot him, but she has declined to elaborate. In letters to two reporters at The Florida Times-Union, Hartsfield said five hours of secretly recorded conversations between him and an informant show his innocence.
"All over the original recording, I plead my innocence, confessing no involvement of the crime I'm so wrongly accused of," Hartsfield wrote. Charged with attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, he faces a life sentence if convicted.
Prosecutors, however, say it is a confession and have refused to release the tapes.
The informant, convicted bank robber Stephen Wilson, said he was with Hartsfield the night of the shooting. They followed Collier's car from a nightclub to a woman's apartment. Wilson, 39, told police he heard gunshots after Hartsfield left the car. When Hartsfield returned, he said he had shot Collier.
Wilson, who has a criminal record dating back to 1989, has failed three drug tests in the past six months and had been threatened with arrest himself in the Collier shooting.
In 1995, Hartsfield served four months in prison for battery on an official and carrying a concealed weapon. Starting in 2003, he served just over two years in prison for possession of a concealed weapon by a convicted felon.
When he was shot, Collier was on the verge of becoming a starter _ the Jaguars thought he was a potential standout and had just signed him to a three-year, $4.5 million contract.
Nicknamed "Big Rich" because of his mammoth frame and blessed with unusual agility for his size, Collier spent the 2008 preseason vying for a starting spot. Although he lost out on the job to former second-round draft pick Khalif Barnes, coaches saw him as the team's future left tackle _ the key position on an NFL offensive line.
Collier grew up with six siblings in Shreveport, La., and was the son of a church musician. He didn't always get good grades and wasn't always motivated. And after a short stint at junior college, Collier found himself stocking produce at Wal-Mart.
He eventually ended up at Tyler Junior College in Texas, where a counselor steered him toward the football office. Collier transferred to Division II Valdosta State in Georgia and won a national championship. But his name never got called in the 2006 draft.
The Jaguars invited him to camp, and he made an immediate impact. The wisecracking rookie, whose deep voice and hearty laugh often echoed through the locker room, beat out several veterans and earned a spot on the 53-man roster.
Although he always said he felt fortunate to make it to the NFL, he also believed he could have a long career playing with the big boys.
He still hangs out with former teammates, the same guys who visited him in the hospital almost every day after the shooting. The Jaguars kept his locker intact last season, honored him before a game in December and he visited his former teammates on the field last month.
"It was a reality check, something that went way past football. This is life, a life-and-death situation," cornerback Rashean Mathis said of the shooting. "It touched all of us emotionally. It was a big blow."
Guard Vince Manuwai agreed, "It was definitely a blow to find out Rich got shot. We were ready to start the season and to get that kind of news, emotions get in the way of everything."
Associated Press sports writer Mark Long contributed to this report.