A former University of Michigan football player accused of rape pleaded to lesser charges Thursday in Washtenaw County Circuit Court.
James Lavell Whitley, 30, was scheduled to stand trial Monday on a first-degree criminal sexual conduct charge stemming from a January incident. But he instead pleaded no contest to one count of aggravated assault.
A no contest plea is not an admission of guilt, but is treated as such at sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 21. Aggravated assault is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
County prosecutors agreed to drop the rape charge as part of the deal, and the former U-M cornerback no longer faces the possibility of a stiff prison sentence - despite a previous criminal conviction on weapons charges. Whitley’s status as a habitual offender was also dropped, and he will not appear on the Michigan Sex Offender Registry.
Pittsfield Township police arrested Whitley at his Ann Arbor home just hours after a 31-year-old woman reported the assault in a friend’s apartment. The friend was romantically involved with Whitley and invited him over to her apartment after celebrating her birthday at a local bar, police said.
The woman said she went to sleep on an air mattress in the apartment and awoke while Whitley was sexually assaulting her.
Investigators said alcohol use by all parties involved was a major factor in the incident.
Marcus Connor, Whitley’s Royal Oak-based attorney, did not return messages Thursday or Friday.Â He denied the charges and proclaimed Whitley’s innocence in earlier interviews.
Whitley graduated from U-M with a degree in sports management and communications and was still affiliated in some capacity with the program while attempting to revive a playing career in the NFL, Connor previously said. The Norfolk, Va., native started more than 30 games during his collegiate career and was team co-captain before he was dismissed for carrying a concealed gun in Ann Arbor in 2000.
He was sentenced to one year of probation and 20 hours of community service after pleading guilty to the charge, court records show.
Whitley played in the Canadian Football League and then sparingly in the NFL for St. Louis, Green Bay and Carolina. He also played in the Arena Football League before it folded earlier this year.
Art Aisner is a freelance writer for AnnArbor.com. Reach the news desk at firstname.lastname@example.org or 734-623-2530.