The guilty plea that former Saints safety Darren Sharper entered last year in federal court in New Orleans to charges that he drugged women before raping them has imploded, according to a legal filing Wednesday by Sharper’s attorneys and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office.
The government and Sharper’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo to postpone a March 7 trial date that, until now, only his two co-defendants in the federal case expected to face.
The joint motion suggests that Sharper’s attorneys and the feds have gone back to the drawing board to try to hash out a prison term that Milazzo will support, while both sides gear up for a trial.
“Recent developments have led to a resumption of plea negotiations and, prior to that, neither party expected Mr. Sharper to go to trial,” the motion states. “The change in case posture ... has now dictated that the defendant and the prosecution must now prepare for a more complex trial.”
Sharper pleaded guilty in May to three federal drug charges, including a conspiracy count, for allegedly plying women with drugs “with the intent to commit a crime of violence, that is, rape.”
Sharper agreed to a nine-year federal prison sentence, the linchpin of a wider, “global” deal to resolve allegations that the retired All-Pro drugged and raped or attempted to rape nine women in four states while retired from the game and working as an NFL Network analyst.
Milazzo held Sharper’s federal guilty pleas in abeyance pending a probation report she ordered to guide her decision on whether to endorse the global deal. That meant Sharper, 40, could withdraw his guilty pleas at any time.
Milazzo hadn’t set a new sentencing date for Sharper since last summer, suggesting that she was leery of what critics have labeled a sweetheart deal for a famous sports star.
In October, federal probation officials concluded in a sealed report that Sharper should serve about double the nine-year sentence based on the crimes he was admitting, according to a law enforcement source.
Such recommendations by probation officials are not binding, and in most cases federal judges can adjust sentences up or down from the ranges that the probation officials recommend.
Sharper’s guilty plea is different. It requires Milazzo to either approve or reject the 108-month prison sentence and other terms of the unique agreement in their entirety.
Wednesday’s motion suggests Milazzo has done the latter, though she has not issued a written ruling.
Neither Billy Gibbens, Sharper’s attorney in New Orleans, nor Blair Berk, the Los Angeles attorney who orchestrated the multiple-state plea deal for Sharper, responded Wednesday to questions about the latest legal filing.
Attorneys for Sharper’s co-defendants in the federal case — former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi and former New Orleans steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez — also declined to comment, confirming only that they oppose any continuance of the March 7 trial date, as the joint motion states.
What happens now in the four state cases in which Sharper also pleaded guilty or no contest last year — in Arizona, Nevada, California and Louisiana — is uncertain.
Sharper’s multistate deal requires him to answer prosecutors’ questions about his activities, and he was expected to provide key testimony against both former pals in the federal drug case.
He also was to cooperate in the state case in Orleans Parish in which Licciardi and Nunez both face, among other charges, counts of aggravated rape that carry mandatory life prison terms upon conviction.
Last June, as part of his global deal, Sharper pleaded guilty in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to two counts of forcible rape and one count of simple rape from a nine-count indictment that also names Nunez and Licciardi. Sharper admitted he raped three women in two separate incidents in August and September 2013, the latter at his Tchoupitoulas Street condominium. Nunez is accused of joining Sharper in raping two women there.
Both Nunez and Licciardi have pleaded not guilty to the state and federal charges against them.
After Sharper’s guilty plea, Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman said she would not endorse the agreed-upon sentence until after Milazzo ruled in the federal case.
Sharper’s pleas in the four states, and the deal itself, appear to place him in a bit of a trick bag. The 14-page “memorandum of understanding” that he signed last year said that if he were to withdraw his guilty plea in state court in New Orleans, any statements he’s made to authorities can be used against him.
A spokesman for District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office declined to comment, citing an office policy against discussing open cases.
The global agreement says Sharper’s plea agreement in Los Angeles “is an independent agreement and is not predicated on defendant’s plea or sentence in any other jurisdiction.”
First arrested in Los Angeles in January 2014, Sharper was released briefly on bond but has remained behind bars for nearly two years, most recently in St. Tammany Parish.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.