Wearing shackles instead of his Super Bowl ring, former Saints safety Darren Sharper entered a courtroom in New Orleans on Monday afternoon to address the federal portion of a “global” plea deal that is expected to keep him in prison for another nine years in the druggings and rapes of nine women across four states.
Sharper, 39, pleaded not guilty to charges contained in a six-count drug conspiracy indictment issued in December.
The plea was only a formality, however. Sharper is expected to switch his plea to guilty later this week, under the terms of a deal arranged across the four states where he has faced charges.
Sharper has already lodged pleas of guilty or no contest in California, Arizona and Nevada. He is due next in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, where he is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to two counts of forcible rape and a count of simple rape, stemming from a pair of 2013 incidents outlined in a nine-count state indictment.
But Sharper’s first stop on a return visit to New Orleans — now five years removed from helping the Saints win their only NFL championship — was in federal court.
He entered the courtroom shortly before 2 p.m. in orange jail scrubs with matching slippers, shackled around his waist and wrists. At 2:15 p.m., U.S. Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan called his case, and Sharper stood with his attorneys as a federal prosecutor read the charges, which each carry a maximum 20-year prison term.
“Yes, your honor,” was all Sharper said to the judge before entering his not-guilty plea in a hearing that lasted just a few minutes.
Sharper was flown to Louisiana last week from the Los Angeles County Jail to face an indictment accusing him and a friend, former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi, of distributing drugs “with the intent to commit a crime of violence, that is, rape,” dating at least as far back as January 2010.
The drugs they are accused of using included alprazolam, diazepam and zolpedem, more commonly known as Xanax, Valium and Ambien, respectively.
Those were combined with illicit drugs and alcohol to render their female victims unconscious, according to the allegations.
Licciardi, 30, a 10-year deputy who resigned when the indictments were issued in state and federal court on Dec. 12, has pleaded not guilty in both cases. So has a co-defendant in the Orleans Parish case, former Morton’s steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez, 27.
Sharper’s court date Monday marked his first appearance in New Orleans since he was arrested in Los Angeles on separate rape counts in January 2014.
He was transferred from Los Angeles to the St. Tammany Parish jail last week.
Sharper is accused along with Nunez of raping a former Saintsation cheerleader and another woman on Sept. 23, 2013, at Sharper’s condominium on Tchoupitoulas Street.
The state indictment also accuses Sharper of raping another woman, with Licciardi’s help, a few weeks earlier at a hotel across the street from the condo.
Under the plea deal, a source has said, Sharper will receive a 20-year sentence for the Louisiana charges but will serve just half of it, mostly in federal prison, which is generally preferred by defendants over state correctional systems. Afterward, he will remain on lifetime probation and will be required to register as a sex offender.
No details of Sharper’s plea deal were announced in court Monday, and one of his attorneys, Kyle Schonekas, declined comment after the hearing.
Neither Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office nor Sharper’s attorneys have been willing to discuss details of the agreement.
Sharper was named in three counts of the federal indictment, while Licciardi was named in all six counts.