Fault Lines
13 October 2017

Donovan Winter Arrested for First Degree Teenage Stupidity

February 3, 2017 (Fault Lines) — It’s sometimes hard to say if talented football players with bright futures commit more crimes than everyone else or if we just hear about it more because they’re celebrities. Either way, the most recent great-footballer-arrestee-of-the-day seems to be Donovan Winter:

Defensive end Donovan Winter, who was supposed to sign to play football at Michigan State on Wednesday, was still in the Seminole County jail near Orlando after being arrested Monday night and charged with armed burglary and theft of a firearm.

Winter, 18, was being held Thursday on $2,000 bond and also awaiting a GPS device to be placed on him prior to his release, according to jail records.

Unlike the typical DUI or drug possession case for an 18-year-old athlete, these charges sound far more serious. Armed burglary and theft of a firearm sound even worse than the nasty assault and domestic violence cases that also don’t seem to be all that uncommon for professional and semi-professional athletes, in fact.

Luckily, the charges sound worse than what actually happened:

In a police affidavit obtained by the Sentinel on Wednesday afternoon, an officer stated that he was dispatched to a scene to check out a trespassing violation. Upon arrival at a residence in Chuluota, Fla., Rebecca Thurmond met with the officer and advised that her daughter’s boyfriend, Winter, was on the property and she wanted him cited for trespassing. She then, however, said Winter already had left the property.

The officer also reported in the affidavit, “While conversing with Thurmond about her legal options, Thurmond’s daughter advised that while Winter was on scene, he told her that he stole her father’s gun. I had (the daughter) provide a written sworn statement, and went to the garage with father, Kenneth Thurmond, where he kept the gun, to confirm it was stolen. Kenneth confirmed that the gun was stolen from where he last had it in his garage. Kenneth also advised that a box of .22 ammunition was stolen as well, but the case the gun was in, was still there.”

It seems fairly obvious that, unless he just has generally terrible judgment, and does and says stupid things all the time, Winter was drunk or high and decided to pay his girlfriend a visit. Either she didn’t want him there or her dad didn’t want him there, so he left eventually, but not before telling her he’d stolen her dad’s gun. It’s unclear whether he stole it that night and decided it would be a good idea to tell her about it before leaving or if he stole it before and thought it seemed like just the right time to break the news, but that doesn’t really matter. Going into the house and stealing the gun constitute the charged offenses.

When you hear armed burglary and theft of a firearm, you probably envision some sort of elaborate heist. This wasn’t Winter grabbing a gun and doing a home invasion in hopes of stealing the contents of the victim’s gun safe, though. He probably didn’t have a gun to start at all. He showed up someplace where he may have at first been allowed to be, and him entering the house to take something went from burglary to armed burglary when what he took turned out to be a gun. It’s a two-for-one crime, as it’s obviously theft of a firearm as well.

Sadly, it doesn’t look like Winter is going to have an easy defense:

Officers searched for and located Winter, read him his rights and found weapon Kenneth Thurmond said belonged to him. Winter was arrested and transported to the Seminole County Jail “without incident,” according to the report.

Considering that he was at the house where the missing gun used to be, told someone he took the gun, and then was caught with the gun, the prosecutor isn’t going to be too worried about losing Winter’s trial. The only thing Winter seems to have going for his case is his relationship to the victim and the fact that he might have a plausible argument that he thought he had permission to borrow it and that they were mad at him and tried to frame him.

Those are never easy cases, though, even where it’s clear the witnesses and victim all really hate the defendant and come off as angry enough to go to such great lengths. Still, it isn’t unthinkable that they’d hate him that much if he committed the offense, and juries and judges don’t buy conspiracies easily.

There’s something sort of tragic about Winter sitting in a jail cell instead of signing to play football at Michigan State. Rather than embarking on what might have been (and may still end up, honestly) a huge career playing for a great school, he’s being fitted for GPS monitoring. Most arrested athletes who make the news already have established careers. Poor Winter made the news in an embarrassing way before he even got a chance to play college football. That GPS device probably isn’t going to be good for his performance on the field. The first thing he’s likely to ask his lawyer is how to get the court to remove it, for that and other reasons.

Even though he’s only been a high school player up to now, albeit a great one, the article still ends with the usual blurb about his stats:

Winter (6-feet-4, 235 pounds) transferred to Bishop Moore from Oviedo (Fla.) Hagerty for his senior season. He led the Hornets in tackles (57) and he also had 24 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

It would be great if every guy-gets-arrested news story listed remarkable things about the defendant at the end. “[insert defendant name] can do advanced calculus and has a great smile” or “[insert defendant name] made a really excellent ashtray in shop last semester,” would do a lot to lighten up your typical criminal justice news story. Of course, Winter (and anyone else in his situation) would probably rather not be in the news at all if given a choice between that and having the story tout various accomplishments.

Winter no doubt feels really stupid right now, and he should. Teenagers do really idiotic things, and he doesn’t seem to be an exception. He just so happened to be well known and did it at the worst possible time.

Not only does Winter have more to lose than most, but everyone finds out about it. You never hear about most teenagers’ mistakes. Winter isn’t so lucky.

2 Comments on this post.

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  • Scott Jacobs
    3 February 2017 at 8:53 am - Reply

    I recall that, back in the day, I once told my attorney “you’re not here to prevent me from getting a conviction on my record; you are here to do damage control…”

    It sounds like young Mr. Winters needs to have the same chat with his lawyer…

  • DaveL
    3 February 2017 at 12:38 pm - Reply

    Those are never easy cases, though, even where it’s clear the witnesses and victim all really hate the defendant and come off as angry enough to go to such great lengths.

    Not to mention, if you hated someone deeply enough to frame them for a felony, you’d probably want to go about it in a way that doesn’t involve you lending them a gun. “People you want thrown in prison” and “people you’d lend a gun to” are usually disjoint sets.