Darren Sharper (AP photo)

Darren Sharper really had no choice, his attorneys said in a federal appeal filed Friday.

The former Saints defensive star had first signed a "global" plea deal with prosecutors in four states in which he agreed to spill the beans about his and others' involvement in an elaborate scheme to drug women for the purpose of raping them.

In exchange, Sharper would serve nine years in federal prison and the rest of his life on probation.

But a New Orleans federal judge tossed a wrench into that deal in 2015 when she rejected the nine-year prison term as too short, citing a federal probation report that turned up still more of Sharper's alleged victims — a total of 16.

Sharper's attorneys now argue that he was forced to stick to his guilty pleas or face a flurry of new prosecutions based on his earlier admissions to authorities.

Sharper also contends that U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo mistakenly allowed the allegations of all 16 women — instead of only the ones identified in the charges against Sharper in her courtroom — to weigh on her decisions first to reject Sharper's earlier plea agreement and then to sentence him to almost two decades behind bars.

The result, his attorneys argue, was an involuntary guilty plea and an improperly calculated punishment.

"Mr. Sharper could not have reasonably withdrawn his guilty plea in this matter without causing a chain of potentially catastrophic failures," attorneys Richard Richthofen and Autumn Town wrote in the 56-page appeal brief.

"These pleas were in effect interwoven and connected to each other, each dependent on the other for support and consistency."

Richthofen and Town asked for the chance to argue their case in front of a panel of 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges. They said their client accepts responsibility for his actions but hopes that his sentence will be reduced.

Sharper pleaded guilty or no contest in the four states where he was charged with drugging and raping several women.

He agreed to a plea deal two years ago that would resolve charges involving nine women in state jurisdictions in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tempe, Arizona, as well as in New Orleans federal court.

But Milazzo said the deal was too lenient, citing a pre-sentencing report that asserted Sharper had committed as many as seven other assaults for which he was not charged.

While Sharper technically had the option of then withdrawing the guilty plea, that would have caused "the complicated plea arrangements negotiated in the other four jurisdictions" to crumble, his appellate attorneys said.

Authorities also could have used statements Sharper made after he first entered into the global agreement against him at a trial if he withdrew his plea in Milazzo's courtroom, Richthofen and Town pointed out.

Therefore, they said, Sharper confirmed his guilty plea at a follow-up hearing held last year.

Milazzo then gave Sharper a 19-year sentence, taking into account the uncharged allegations that his attorneys now say pushed him into a much higher sentencing range.

Sharper's attorneys said the range would have been lower had Milazzo considered only the three victims identified in the indictment at the center of the case in her courtroom.

The attorneys also said Sharper's cooperation helped spur guilty pleas from two of his former friends and co-defendants, including a former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office deputy, Brandon Licciardi.

Licciardi and steakhouse waiter Erik Nunez also pleaded guilty to various state and federal charges related to the attacks to which Sharper confessed in New Orleans. Both are in prison as well.

Sharper, an All-Pro safety, played for the Packers, Vikings and Saints from 1997 to 2010 and helped New Orleans win Super Bowl XLIV toward the end of his career. He later worked as an analyst for the NFL's television network. 

He apologized for his crimes but was told to "go to hell" by one of his victims when she spoke at his sentencing hearing in Milazzo's courtroom.

Advocate staff writer John Simerman contributed to this report

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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