Former New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper will serve just nine more years behind bars for drugging and raping women in four states as part of a global plea deal that began to play out Monday with Sharper entering guilty pleas in Los Angeles and Tempe, Arizona.
A source with knowledge of the case said Sharper, 39, has agreed to plead guilty in New Orleans to two counts of forcible rape and a count of simple rape stemming from two incidents that took place within a month of each other in 2013. Had he been convicted as charged on either of two counts of aggravated rape he faced, Sharper would have received an automatic sentence of life in prison.
His deal with Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office calls for a 20-year sentence on the Louisiana charges, the source said, but he will be required to serve only half that amount under the terms of the deal. Sharper is also getting credit for the year he already has spent in jail.
Under the deal, Sharper will serve the bulk of his prison time in federal custody, followed by probation and lifetime registration as a sex offender. The federal prison stint means a break of sorts for Sharper, as federal prison is generally considered preferable to state prison.
Sharper’s attorney, Blair Berk, who confirmed the global deal on Friday, declined to comment Monday on specifics of the agreement.
The sentence, surprisingly lenient to some legal observers, is part of an all-encompassing settlement Sharper reached in the four states where he has been charged with drugging and raping women: Louisiana, California, Nevada and Arizona. The agreement also will resolve a federal drug case in New Orleans accusing Sharper of conspiring with a former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy, Brandon Licciardi, to drug women to prime them for rape.
Licciardi has pleaded not guilty.
As part of his deal, Sharper has to enter pleas in all five jurisdictions where he is charged: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Tempe, New Orleans and federal court in New Orleans.
That process began Monday morning.
Sharper pleaded no contest to sex assault charges in Los Angeles, agreeing to a 20-year sentence, of which he is slated to serve half, including the year he already has spent in jail there.
He will be formally sentenced in the California case in July, months after he is expected to return to New Orleans to enter guilty pleas in state and federal courts as part of the global deal.
He also pleaded guilty Monday via teleconference to sexual assault and attempted sexual assault in Tempe and was immediately sentenced to nine years in prison.
Meanwhile, Clark County (Nevada) District Attorney Steve Wolfson said that Sharper will plead guilty there on Tuesday to attempted sexual assault in a January 2014 incident in Las Vegas and will receive a maximum of eight years. A spokeswoman for Wolfson’s office did not immediately return messages from The New Orleans Advocate on Monday.
Sharper will be allowed to serve all of his sentences concurrently, rather than consecutively.
The former NFL star, who patrolled the Saints’ defensive secondary during the team’s lone championship season, has an April 6 federal court date in New Orleans, which would mark his first appearance in the drug conspiracy case. He is due to be arraigned in state court in New Orleans on April 16 — although both dates could move forward with the global plea deal in place.
It is unclear whether he has agreed to cooperate with authorities against his co-defendants in the state and federal cases in New Orleans. The two cases here are the only ones in which alleged accomplices are charged.
The state charges in Orleans Parish stem from a nine-count indictment in December that charged Sharper with two counts of aggravated rape from an incident on Sept. 23, 2013, in which he was accused of raping a former Saintsation cheerleader and another woman at his condo on Tchoupitoulas Street; and one count of simple rape from an Aug. 31, 2013, attack at the Renaissance Hotel.
A co-defendant in the state case, Erik Nunez, also is accused of raping the same two women at Sharper’s condo after a night of club-hopping. Nunez has pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Jeffrey Smith, said the former Morton’s Steakhouse waiter denies raping the cheerleader and that the sex with the other woman, identified only as “J.W.,” was consensual.
Also named in the state indictment is Licciardi, who is accused of both rape and human trafficking for allegedly helping to facilitate Sharper’s rape of the woman at the hotel.
Sharper and Licciardi are accused in the federal indictment of scheming to dish out Ambien, Xanax and Valium with the intent to commit rape beginning at least as far back as January 2010. Licciardi, who first told investigators last year that he was blindsided by the allegations that Sharper raped the cheerleader, is charged in the federal indictment with joining Sharper to distribute drugs “with the intent to commit a crime of violence, that is rape,” on the same date that Sharper and Nunez are accused of raping the two women.
Shaun Clarke, a former federal prosecutor in New Orleans, said that nine years behind bars for Sharper seems lenient, given the grave criminal charges he faced in four states. The sentence may mean that Sharper is cooperating with authorities in the cases against Licciardi and Nunez, Clarke said.
“The reality of the criminal justice system, fair or not, is that if you can bring others into the net, you’ve got something to trade. That’s just the way it is,” Clarke said.
“It does seem light to me, but there are just so many factors that go into plea bargaining: How strong was the evidence? Were any of the witnesses reluctant? Were there going to be substantial costs in trying him in several jurisdictions? Any and all of that might go into the equation.
“I wish they could put him away for as long as possible. From what I can gather, the guy sounds like a serial rapist.”
Loyola law professor Dane Ciolino, however, said the sentence for Sharper doesn’t seem out of line.
“He is charged with serious crimes, and that is a serious sentence for a person with no criminal record,” Ciolino said. “Also, it is likely the victims have been consulted and have not seriously objected to the sentence. Given all of those considerations, the sentence seems to me to be within the range of reason.”
Cannizzaro issued a statement Friday confirming that a deal has been struck and saying he expects Sharper to be brought to Louisiana within a month to plead to the charges he faces here — both state and federal.
Sharper has been jailed in Los Angeles since his arrest on Jan. 17, 2014.
A 10-year veteran, Licciardi resigned from the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 12, the day state and federal indictments came down. He has pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The federal indictment also charges him with twice trying to dissuade a female witness from revealing information about him to a grand jury.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.