MISSOULA – The NCAA has granted another year of athletic eligibility to former University of Montana cornerback Jimmy Wilson, who was acquitted of murder charges in the June 2007 shooting death of his aunt’s boyfriend.
Wilson, 23, plans to join the Griz again this fall, Montana executive vice president Jim Foley said Monday.
“I thank God for the opportunity to further my education,” Wilson said in a statement released by the school. “I am thankful to the coaches and (athletic department staff) for helping me with the waiver process. I am excited I have the chance to compete again in the classroom and on the field as a Grizzly.”
Wilson was jailed in California for two years until he was acquitted last July in the shooting death of Kevin Smoot in Lancaster, Calif. Since then, he has been living and working in southern California and spending time with his family.
Earlier this year, Wilson contacted Montana about re-enrolling in school and asked that the school petition the NCAA for restoration of his senior season. The NCAA reached its decision late last week, school officials said.
“The legal system has run its course, and we agree with the outcome that was achieved,” said Montana president George Dennison. “We relish this opportunity to help this student-athlete get his life back on track with an education at the University of Montana.”
Wilson was a three-year starter for the Griz from 2004 to 2006. He had 51 tackles, three interceptions and two forced fumbles as a junior and was a preseason All-America candidate with dreams of playing in the NFL going into the 2007 season.
The night before he was to travel to Montana to begin workouts for his senior season, his grandmother received a call from Wilson’s aunt saying that her boyfriend was drunk, beating her and urinating on her.
Wilson told the student newspaper, the Montana Kaimin, that he went to Smoot’s house to pick up his aunt, but that Smoot pulled out an AK-47 and pointed it at his chest. Wilson said Smoot was shot in the head as the men struggled over the gun. Wilson fled to Montana.
“I was scared, I panicked,” Wilson told the Kaimin for a story published in February. “There would’ve never been a trial had I stayed in Lancaster that night.”
Instead, there were two trials. The first ended in a hung jury after an 11-1 vote in favor of acquittal. Prosecutors refiled the charges and Wilson was acquitted in a second trial of first-degree murder and an alternative charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Under NCAA rules, athletes have five school years to exhaust four seasons of eligibility. Without the waiver, Wilson’s eligibility would have expired following the 2008 season.
“The NCAA has ruled in favor of Jimmy, and we support the decision,” said Montana athletic director Jim O’Day. “This will allow this young man to restore what he’s been missing the past three years and follow his dreams both academically and athletically. We will welcome Jimmy back into the Griz family with open arms and wish him success.”
Montana football coach Robin Pflugrad added: “Jimmy has unquestionably shown tremendous courage and strength of character in the past three years. I truly believe that Jimmy Wilson deserves an opportunity to pursue his educational goals. Our players and staff are excited about the news of bringing Jimmy back into the Grizzly family.”
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