Former NBA player Javaris Crittenton pleaded guilty to manslaughter Wednesday, admitting in an Atlanta courtroom that he was a gang member and to his role in the 2011 shooting death of a mother of four. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.
Prior to his involvement in two August 2011 Atlanta-area shootings, the second of which left 22-year-old Julian Jones dead, Crittenton was best known to most NBA fans for his role in the infamous confrontation with former Washington Wizards teammate Gilbert Arenas in which both players admitted to pulling out guns in the locker room.
Jury selection for Crittenton's murder trial wrapped up Tuesday, and opening arguments were scheduled to begin Wednesday before Crittenton suddenly changed course and pleaded guilty.
Crittenton played alongside Dwight Howard in high school at Southwest Atlanta Christian Academy and later became a standout at Georgia Tech.
Prosecutors were preparing to introduce evidence that he joined a street gang his rookie year in the NBA.
Shortly after becoming the 19th overall pick in 2007 and signing a contract with the Los Angeles Lakers for $2.6 million in guaranteed money, Crittenton joined the West Los Angeles street gang known as the Mansfield Gangster Crips.
On Wednesday, Crittenton admitted in court to being a gang member in a tearful guilty plea in which he apologized to the family of Jones. In open court, Crittenton acknowledged that he joined a gang for protection, said J. Gabriel Banks, Deputy District Attorney for Fulton County, Georgia.
"It's just an unfortunate circumstance. He ruined his career but, more importantly, he ruined the life of Julian Jones and her family," Banks said.
"It's just a waste of talent," Banks added. "Something has to be done to answer the question of why professional athletes are joining street gangs for protection."
Prosecutors said Crittenton was aiming for a man, a rival gang member, who allegedly robbed him days earlier, and that he shot Jones instead, who was an innocent bystander. Crittenton also pleaded guilty to aggravated assault Wednesday, for his attempt to shoot the rival gang member.
Crittenton also was facing attempted murder charges for a second shooting in August 2011, but those charges were dismissed as part of the plea agreement Crittenton accepted Wednesday, Banks said.
Crittenton's cousin, Douglas Gamble, the driver of the vehicle Crittenton was shooting from on the night Jones was killed, pleaded guilty to aggravated assault Wednesday and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Crittenton also played for Memphis. He signed a non-guarantee contract with Charlotte in 2010 before being waived.