Collins convicted of 1st-degree murder

OMAHA, Neb. -- Former Nebraska running back Thunder Collins was convicted Monday of first-degree murder and other charges stemming from a September 2008 shooting in Omaha that left one man dead and another seriously wounded.

The Douglas County jury also found the former Cornhuskers player guilty of attempted second-degree murder, felony assault and two weapons counts.

The 29-year-old faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison for the first-degree murder conviction. He faces up to 170 years on the other counts, said Deputy County Attorney John Alagaban. Sentencing is set for Nov. 12.

As Collins left the courtroom, he yelled at the jury of six men and six women, "Are you happy? Are you happy? You know I didn't kill anyone!"

He later told reporters in a jailhouse interview that he thinks he was convicted because he was a well known figure in the community.

"If I was just any other Joe Blow, I feel I would have beat this case," he said.

Collins was arrested last September within a day of an Omaha shooting that left 38-year-old Timothy Thomas dead and another California man, Marshall Turner, seriously wounded.

Prosecutors said the shooting stemmed from a botched drug deal in which Collins masterminded a plan to rob the men.

Collins' attorney, Steve Lefler, argued that prosecution witnesses were lying, and said Collins would appeal.

Alagaban said he believes justice was served.

"It's an appropriate, just verdict, especially for a victim who was killed and executed basically on a garage floor," he said.

Collins played for the Cornhuskers from 2000-02. He quit the team midseason saying he couldn't afford to keep playing and needed to focus on taking care of a younger brother, whom he moved from Los Angeles to Nebraska to protect him from gangs. His decision to leave followed a four-game suspension for an undisclosed NCAA rules violation.

He also had a brief stint in 2003 with the Montreal Allouettes of the Canadian Football League.

Originally from Los Angeles, Collins was a junior college All-American in 1998 who was touted by recruiting analysts as the next in a long line of great Nebraska running backs.

But Collins never lived up to his hype. His best season was in 2001, when he played in 12 games, ran for 647 yards and five touchdowns and caught 19 passes for 189 yards.

Collins has had several brushes with the law, including in 2006, when he was sentenced to 10 days in jail after he pleaded no contest to obstructing an Omaha police officer. Witnesses said Collins had been involved in a shooting, and police found marijuana in his pocket.

In 2003, he was acquitted of assault and burglary charges in Corvallis, Ore., that stemmed from accusations about an alleged confrontation with an ex-girlfriend and an Oregon State football player.

In 2002, Collins pleaded guilty to disturbing the peace in Lincoln. That was part of an agreement with prosecutors to drop two assault charges connected to alleged fights with the same woman in Lincoln.

Another man is also charged in Thomas' death. Karnell Burton, 21, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree murder and other charges in the slaying and is scheduled to stand trial in October.