Federal judge rejects Darren Sharper plea deal Thursday, calls prison-sentence length ‘inappropriate’ _lowres

Former NFL safety Darren Sharper, center, with his attorneys, Lisa Wayne, left, and Leonard Levine, right, appear in Los Angeles Superior Court.

A federal judge on Thursday rejected the nine-year prison sentence that federal prosecutors and attorneys for Darren Sharper agreed to last year, calling it “inappropriate” given sentencing guidelines that called for the former Saints safety and admitted serial rapist to serve 15 to 20 years in prison.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo said that range was calculated, in part, based on allegations from 16 victims of Sharper’s admitted spree of sexual violence while the former All-Pro was retired and working as an NFL Network analyst.

Sharper was charged with drugging and raping, or attempting to rape, nine women in four states. But federal pre-sentence investigations that inform such sentencing ranges also can consider uncharged allegations as relevant conduct.

Milazzo said the sentencing guidelines called for a range of 188 to 235 months in prison for Sharper, who agreed to serve 108 months under his deal.

Sharper, 40, who appeared in orange jail scrubs, declined to withdraw his guilty pleas to a pair of drug distribution counts and a drug conspiracy charge from a December 2014 indictment. He still can withdraw them before a March 3 sentencing date that the judge set on Thursday.

“The court finds that in light of the nature and circumstances of the offense and history and characteristics of the defendant, such a substantial deviation (from the guidelines) is inappropriate,” Milazzo said.

Sharper’s attorneys, Kyle Schonekas and Billy Gibbens, declined to comment after the hearing.

Under the terms of Sharper’s plea deal, Milazzo could either endorse or reject the prison term that Sharper’s attorneys and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Polite’s office confected as a key part of a wider, “global” deal to resolve allegations that women lodged against him in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Orleans. But she couldn’t alter it.

How Thursday’s development might affect that complex multistate agreement is uncertain.

As part of the agreement, Sharper was required to debrief with federal and state investigators and fully cooperate in future prosecutions. The agreement states that whatever Sharper told authorities could be used against him, should he withdraw his plea.

Federal prosecutors and Sharper’s attorneys had indicated in a recent court filing that the federal plea deal had hit the skids and that they are now preparing for a trial that Milazzo recently reset for May.

If he withdraws his guilty pleas, Sharper could reach a new plea agreement closer to the recommended sentencing range.

If not, he would be tried alongside two of his former pals, ex-St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brandon Licciardi and former steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez.

Licciardi and Nunez have pleaded not guilty to various charges in both federal and state courts in New Orleans, including aggravated rape counts that carry a mandatory life prison term.

Sharper pleaded guilty in June to two counts of forcible rape and a charge of simple rape in the state case. Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman has said she will wait to sentence Sharper until after the federal case is resolved.

He also has pleaded guilty or no contest in the three other states where prosecutors brought charges against him.

David Weinstein, a former federal prosecutor in Miami, said Sharper may have dug himself too big a hole to go to trial, after the admissions that came with his guilty pleas.

“It might actually be in his best interest not to withdraw his plea,” Weinstein said. “In that proffer, he admitted to drugging and having nonconsensual sex with a number of victims. So if he withdraws his plea and goes to trial, he does not have much of a defense left and most certainly can’t take the stand in his own defense.”

Given that a conviction at trial could land Sharper in prison for far longer than 20 years, Weinstein said the former star safety is “perhaps better off trying to convince the judge to sentence him at the low end of the advisory guidelines range and have that sentence run concurrent with his other agreed-to sentences.”

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