MANKATO, MINN. — A man from St. Peter, Minn. was sentenced to five months in jail Friday for his role in a nearly fatal street attack two years ago on Isaac Kolstad, the Mankato husband and father who was left with a severe brain injury.
Trevor Stenner Shelley, 23, pleaded guilty in March to first-degree assault for punching Kolstad in the head. His plea came just days before a jury trial was about to start.
Blue Earth County District Judge Bradley Walker sentenced Shelley to 150 days in jail, with credit for five days already served. Shelley must also pay a $732 fine, a sum determined by the number of days that have passed since he punched Kolstad.
Shelley declined to speak at the sentencing.
But Kolstad and his mother, Teresa, talked about the difficulties they have faced.
“Isaac will never be the same,” Teresa Kolstad said.
Under terms of the plea agreement, approved by Isaac Kolstad and his wife, Molly, the judge would stay any potential prison time — up to nearly nine years was possible — in exchange for the guilty plea and would sentence him to up to one year of local incarceration.
Shelley, Kolstad and former University of Minnesota football quarterback Philip Nelson were standing outside a Mankato bar in May 2014 when an argument arose after Nelson mistook Kolstad for a bouncer who had kissed his girlfriend.
Nelson shoved Kolstad, a Minnesota State, Mankato, football player, and Kolstad knocked Nelson to the ground.
Shelley, who had attended Mankato West High School with Nelson, ran up to Kolstad and punched him in the head, video surveillance cameras showed. Kolstad appeared to fall unconscious and hit his head on the pavement. Nelson then kicked a motionless Kolstad in the head.
Medical experts pinned most of Kolstad’s injury on the initial punch and the pavement, according to Blue Earth County Attorney Patrick McDermott. Nelson pleaded guilty in March 2015 to fifth-degree misdemeanor assault and was sentenced to two days of jail time plus 100 hours of community service.
Kolstad, meanwhile, underwent months of physical and occupational therapy, relearning how to walk and talk.
Slim chance of survival
Teresa Kolstad said during her victim impact statement Friday that in the days after the attack, doctors told her that her son had a 3 percent chance of surviving.
She bitterly recounted the hours and days that followed, when Shelley did not immediately turn himself in to authorities, and claimed that he hid while her son fought for his life.
Teresa Kolstad told Shelley to think about her family’s struggles and said he should pray for them.
Speaking in a halting but clear voice, Isaac Kolstad also addressed the court, saying he hopes to someday drive again and return to work at Fastenal, the Minnesota-based manufacturer where he was employed before his injury. He said he continues with occupational and speech therapy and has troubles with his right side. He also gets headaches, he said, and his short-term memory is poor.
McDermott argued during the sentencing that the recommended sentence of 120 days was too short.
But Shelley’s attorney, Richard Hillesheim, told the court that Shelley truly regrets what happened. He said Kolstad’s recovery has been heroic, but that his client, who is employed and intends to go back to school, did not have “evil intent.”
“The night these things happened, there were three young men who had been drinking who somehow let pride get in the way of their better judgment,” he said. “I hope that the Kolstad family understands that it is something he truly, truly regrets.”
Shelley had planned to address the court and perhaps even the Kolstads before the sentencing, Hillesheim said, but he became too emotional and decided at the last minute against doing so.
In handing down his sentence, Walker said Shelley committed a criminal act. But he said he doesn’t believe that Shelley is a criminal. He ordered Shelley to report to jail on May 20 to begin serving his sentence.
As the court adjourned, Shelley walked out of the courtroom with family members, embraced a young woman and wept. He left the courthouse a few minutes later without speaking.
Kolstad family attorney Kenneth White said the family was “disappointed for the second time” by the sentence — the first time being Nelson’s sentence last year.
The Kolstads are preparing a lawsuit against Shelley, Nelson and the two Mankato bars, Blue Bricks Bar and Eatery and South Street Saloon, that allegedly served the underage Nelson, then 20, the night of the incident.
The suit, which has yet to be filed in court, seeks more than $50,000, White said. The insurance payments for medical bills alone are more than $1 million, he said. White declined to provide a copy of the suit.
McDermott, speaking for perhaps the last time on a case that has dominated his time the past two years, said it was frustrating that its conclusion can’t repair the damage to everyone’s lives.
“It’s been a very emotional, trying time for everybody involved,” he said.