A former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy accused of joining retired New Orleans Saints safety Darren Sharper in a scheme to drug and rape women doesn’t want to be tried alongside a co-defendant who himself has already asked for a separate trial.
A week after Erik Nunez filed a motion to sever himself from the federal case in which former Deputy Brandon Licciardi is accused in a drug conspiracy with Sharper, as well as with witness tampering, Licciardi filed a similar motion this week to split his trial off from Nunez’s.
Licciardi, through his attorneys, now claims that both Nunez and Sharper called him “with the clear intent to intimidate and dissuade him from cooperating with state law enforcement” before he told authorities what he saw at Sharper’s Tchoupitoulas Street condo on a night in September 2013.
That’s when two women, including a former Saintsations cheerleader, claim Sharper raped them. Sharper, a defensive standout during the Saints’ lone championship season, has since admitted to the crimes in state and federal guilty pleas.
“Mr. Licciardi was instructed by Erik Nunez prior to his interview with the NOPD that: ‘B B yeah ah I we didn’t even tell them we saw you we didn’t even tell them we say ... in the in the condo,” wrote Licciardi’s attorneys, Ralph and Brian Capitelli, citing a sealed transcript of an interview of Licciardi from early 2014. It was not a direct statement from Nunez.
Sharper, in fact, didn’t say anything to police when Detective Derrick Williams, of the NOPD’s sex crimes unit, came calling within weeks of the alleged rape reported by the ex-cheerleader, court records show. Only Nunez spoke; he denied any knowledge of sexual assault that night.
Licciardi eventually told authorities that he saw Nunez, a former steakhouse waiter, emerge from Sharper’s bedroom wearing only boxer shorts that night, contributing to the pair of aggravated rape charges and possible life prison sentences that Nunez now faces in state court.
Nunez was added only recently to the federal case, in which Sharper and Licciardi were named in a December indictment. Last month, federal prosecutors secured a superseding indictment that charges Nunez with conspiring to get rid of his phone to stymie a federal grand jury probe, which didn’t appear to begin until months later.
Both Licciardi, 30, and Nunez, 28, claim they were side actors in Sharper’s social circle, denying involvement in his admitted scheme to drug women with prescription pills and Ecstasy in an orchestrated plan for sexual assault.
Licciardi’s attorneys said they expect the former deputy and Nunez to present “antagonistic defenses.”
If Sharper was the supposed linchpin in the alleged drugging and rape scheme, his guilty plea in June leaves the court with no good reason to try Licciardi and Nunez together, since the government doesn’t claim Licciardi helped Nunez destroy his phone, Licciardi’s attorneys argued.
“Despite now both being charged in state and federal courts, neither is charged together in a single count and there is no alleged conspiracy between these two men,” Liccardi’s attorneys argued. They also said federal prosecutors have chosen to “turn Mr. Licciardi’s cooperation on its head.”
Licciardi spoke to police or District Attorney’s Office investigators at least three times in late 2013 and early 2014, finally admitting he’d lied in earlier statements, including about the whereabouts of his phone, which contained texts and images that appear to have implicated Sharper.
Licciardi “provided crucial information and evidence that allowed the New Orleans Police Department to obtain arrest warrants against both Darren Sharper and Erik Nunez,” his attorneys’ motion states. Trying the two men together would mislead the jury, it says.
Nunez has pleaded not guilty to the pair of state aggravated rape counts. Licciardi also has pleaded not guilty to aggravated rape, aggravated battery and three counts of human trafficking in state court, and to the federal drug and witness tampering counts.
Sharper is all but out of the case, having pleaded guilty to three drug counts in federal court and three rape counts in state court in New Orleans.
The pleas were part of a “global” deal to resolve allegations that the former NFL All-Pro drugged and raped or attempted to rape nine women in four states while working as a TV commentator in his NFL retirement. Sharper still awaits sentencing in both New Orleans courts, with his federal sentencing slated to go first, on Oct. 1.
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has set a Sept. 10 hearing date on the dual motions to sever the trials.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.