Former Saints safety Darren Sharper formally agreed Tuesday to leave his fate in the hands of a federal judge, abandoning what critics considered a sweetheart plea agreement that would have seen the admitted serial rapist serve only nine years behind bars.
Sharper renewed his guilty pleas from last year to three federal charges related to allegations that he drugged and raped, or attempted to rape, nine women in four states. But under a new deal, it’s up to U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo to decide how much time he should serve, up to a maximum of 20 years.
Milazzo last month rejected an agreement that would have seen the former Super Bowl champion serve a nine-year federal prison sentence under a deal that Sharper’s attorneys signed last year, a “global” agreement with prosecutors in California, Nevada, Arizona and Louisiana.
Milazzo called that sentence “inappropriate” and rejected it, following a probation report that said Sharper should spend between 15 years and 19 years in prison.
The range is partly the result of what Milazzo said were 16 alleged victims who have come forward with allegations against Sharper. Though charges have not been brought in all of those incidents, additional allegations count against Sharper as “relevant conduct” in determining his sentence, Milazzo ruled.
On Tuesday, Sharper, 40, agreed that the higher range was appropriate, though Milazzo can veer above or below it. The judge set a June 16 sentencing date.
Unlike the earlier, all-or-nothing deal for nine years, which Milazzo held in abeyance until last month, Sharper can’t take back his new guilty plea.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon told the judge that the government may ask Milazzo to grant Sharper leniency depending on his cooperation in a federal trial slated for May against two one-time friends of Sharper: former St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s Deputy Brandon Licciardi and Erik Nunez, a former steakhouse waiter.
Both Licciardi and Nunez have pleaded not guilty to charges in state and federal courts in New Orleans, including state charges of aggravated rape that carry lifetime prison sentences upon conviction.
“We are not bound to make such a submission to the court. That’s going to be our discretion,” McMahon said of a possible request for a lower sentence for Sharper. “When we decide whether we’re even gong to call Mr. Sharper as a witness at trial, this is solely at our discretion. No promises have been made, but the possibility is there.”
As part of the wider, four-state agreement — of which his federal prison sentence is a key component — Sharper already agreed to cooperate with investigators and submit to interviews “whenever and wherever requested by law enforcement agents or attorneys for the prosecuting authorities.”
Those interviews were to come after his guilty plea last June in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court to two counts of forcible rape and one of simple rape, stemming from two separate incidents involving three women in August and September 2013.
Sharper’s pleas last year in four state courts left the former star in a pinch, vulnerable to the fallout from his admissions. He declined to withdraw his federal guilty plea and risk a trial.
All of the druggings and rapes to which Sharper has pleaded guilty or no contest took place while Sharper was retired from football and working as an NFL Network commentator.
Milazzo is the only judge so far to reject an agreement that Sharper’s attorneys brokered around the country last year with various prosecutors, including Orleans Parish District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office.
Milazzo, 59, a Napoleonville native, served as a district judge in the 23rd Judicial District before President Barack Obama nominated her to the federal bench in 2011. She had long signaled a reticence to approve the 108-month sentence that Sharper’s attorneys and federal prosecutors presented her with during his federal guilty plea last May.
Ultimately Milazzo refused, sending the two sides back to the drawing board to agree on a new deal that would allow her to slap more time on the former NFL star.
It wasn’t the first time Milazzo has given heavy weight to uncharged criminal conduct in sentencing. In 2014, she handed a former Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy, Mark Hebert, a 92-year prison sentence on bank fraud and identity theft counts after an unusual sentencing hearing in which she found that Hebert had also killed the fraud victim, Albert Bloch.
Bloch’s body was never found, and Hebert wasn’t charged directly with his presumed killing. But Milazzo said she had “no doubt that Mr. Hebert killed Mr. Bloch and disposed of his body for personal financial gain.” The result was a far higher sentence than the one Hebert faced as a direct result of his guilty pleas.
In Sharper’s case, Milazzo ruled that the 16 alleged victims of the retired player’s drugging and rape spree should be counted in the calculation of a sentencing range. Just how much that increased the sentencing range for Sharper is unclear.
Billy Gibbens, Sharper’s attorney in New Orleans, declined to comment after Tuesday’s hearing.
Orleans Parish Criminal District Judge Karen Herman, who accepted Sharper’s guilty pleas to the rape counts, has said she won’t sentence Sharper until after Milazzo acts.
Under the global deal, Sharper is to receive a 20-year Louisiana prison sentence but gets credit for the time he spends in federal prison or on parole or probation in California and Arizona. Barring a violation of the myriad terms of the intricate deal, Sharper wouldn’t do any time in Louisiana.
Sharper, first arrested in Los Angeles in early 2014, has been in the St. Tammany Parish jail for about a year.
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