Man walks free after 1979 murder case dismissed _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- New Orleans District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro

Having agreed to plead either guilty or no contest to raping or attempting to rape nine women in four states, former Saints safety Darren Sharper will serve about nine more years in prison and will be eligible for parole in about 2024, Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro said Wednesday.

After three to five years of supervised release in California, during which he will have to undergo “intensive sexual counseling,” Sharper, 39, will spend the rest of his life on parole under supervision of authorities in Arizona, Cannizzaro told WWL-TV in his first on-the-record comments detailing the particulars of a “global” plea deal the ex-NFL star struck last month to resolve all of the cases against him.

Cannizzaro said his office has discussed the sentence with the three women Sharper was charged with raping in New Orleans.

“Look, certainly, they would like to see a greater sentence imposed. I understand that, and we have discussed that with them,” the DA said.

“But for all intents and purposes, these victims have been vindicated — they were in fact the victims of this man’s sexual assaults. They were not doing this for any financial gain, but simply they wanted to come forward and let the community know, ‘This guy violated us,’ and he is going to walk into the courtroom and plead guilty to those violations.”

It was widely expected that Sharper would plead guilty to the charges brought against him by Cannizzaro’s office at a court hearing Tuesday. However, Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman postponed the hearing until June 15. Herman said she wanted related charges Sharper is facing in federal court in New Orleans to be resolved before the state case is wrapped up.

Speculation ensued that perhaps a wrench had been thrown into the plea deal, but Cannizzaro on Wednesday denied that.

“I have no indication (Sharper) is not willing to go forward with the plea deal” in either federal or state court in New Orleans, said Cannizzaro, who spoke with the defendant’s lawyers on Tuesday.

More than five years after he helped the Saints win their lone Super Bowl title, Sharper and a co-defendant, Erik Nunez, 27, are accused by state prosecutors in New Orleans of raping a former Saintsation cheerleader and another woman on Sept. 23, 2013, at Sharper’s condominium on Tchoupitoulas Street. Those two women were present in Herman’s courtroom Tuesday and met with the judge in her chambers for several minutes.

State prosecutors in New Orleans also accuse Sharper of raping another woman with the help of a second co-defendant — former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi — a few weeks earlier at a hotel across the street from the condo. Authorities also allege that Licciardi, 30, raped a woman he and Sharper drugged at a party the night before the 2013 Super Bowl was played in New Orleans.

Cannizzaro on Wednesday confirmed prior media reports that Sharper will ultimately plead guilty in Criminal District Court to two counts of forcible rape and another of simple rape. Those charges are reduced from what he was originally accused of: three counts of aggravated rape, which is punishable by life imprisonment.

Technically, Cannizzaro explained, Sharper will receive a 20-year prison sentence from Herman once he enters his guilty plea. However, Cannizzaro said, due to the global plea deal, Sharper could be paroled after serving about eight more years in a federal correctional center and then between nine and 11 months in a California prison.

Defendants often prefer to serve time in federal prisons rather than in state ones.

Sharper has been in jail since he was arrested in Los Angeles on rape counts in January 2014, and he will receive credit for the time he’s already spent behind bars. He was subsequently charged by state authorities with similar crimes in Tempe, Arizona; Los Angeles; Las Vegas; and New Orleans. Federal authorities in New Orleans also charged Sharper with participating in a conspiracy to distribute drugs with the intent to commit rape.

On Monday, after being transferred to St. Tammany Parish’s jail, Sharper pleaded not guilty to the federal charges in New Orleans, but it is expected he will declare himself guilty in that case eventually as part of the global deal.

Meanwhile, Licciardi has pleaded not guilty in both the state case against him and the federal one that portrays him as a co-conspirator in a plot to drug and rape women. Licciardi is due in New Orleans’ federal courthouse on Friday.

Nunez, who faces only state charges, also has pleaded not guilty.

Licciardi and Nunez, once a waiter at Morton’s Steakhouse, both befriended Sharper when the ex-Saints safety lived in New Orleans.

The charges Licciardi and Nunez are now battling in New Orleans state court include counts of aggravated rape.

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CORRECTION: This article erroneously reported that Darren Sharper had a federal court hearing in New Orleans set for Friday, April 10, 2015. He does not have one that day, and this article has been corrected to reflect that.