Retired Saints safety Darren Sharper and federal prosecutors have reached a new plea agreement that could spell more prison time for the former Super Bowl champion and admitted serial rapist, according to a court filing Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo scheduled a hearing March 17 to consider the new agreement. She also postponed Sharper’s sentencing until June 16, after the scheduled federal trial of two co-defendants, Brandon Licciardi and Erik Nunez.
Billy Gibbens, an attorney for Sharper in the federal case, declined to comment on the new deal or its terms. Gibbens requested the delay “so that the court can evaluate (Sharper’s) full cooperation in connection with sentencing,” Wednesday’s motion states.
Last month, Milazzo rejected the nine-year federal prison sentence that Sharper and prosecutors had agreed on as part of a “global” deal to resolve five separate criminal cases against him. Milazzo found that the 108-month prison term was “inappropriate” given that a federal probation report recommended a range of 188 to 235 months, or a minimum of close to 16 years.
Among the factors that Milazzo weighed was the number of Sharper’s victims, who totaled 16, she said. The football star has admitted to charges involving nine of those women.
Sharper, 40, pleaded guilty in May to three federal drug counts related to a conspiracy to drug women to prime them for rape. Milazzo held those guilty pleas in abeyance pending her decision on whether to endorse the sentence.
All told, Sharper has entered pleas of guilty or no contest in five courtrooms across four states to allegations that he drugged and raped or tried to rape women in California, Arizona, Nevada and New Orleans. All of those assaults and druggings took place while Sharper was retired from football and working as an NFL Network commentator, court documents show.
Authorities allege that Sharper schemed with Licciardi and Nunez to ply women with prescription drugs such as Ambien, Xanax and Valium, and the illicit party drug Ecstasy, with the idea of debilitating and then raping them.
Sharper pleaded guilty last year in state court in New Orleans to two counts of forcible rape and a count of simple rape involving three women in 2013. Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman has held off sentencing Sharper under the terms of the global deal until after Milazzo renders her decision on the federal sentence.
Under the terms of his federal guilty pleas, Milazzo could not adjust the sentence agreed upon by Sharper’s attorneys and prosecutors; she could only accept or reject it, with the understanding that Sharper could withdraw his guilty pleas at any time before sentencing.
But Sharper also agreed that anything he told investigators in the meantime — a required condition of his deal — could be used against him. That left the former All-Pro vulnerable, and he declined to immediately withdraw his federal guilty pleas following Milazzo’s rejection of the prison term.
Sharper’s new plea agreement falls under a different statute in which he could not withdraw his guilty plea and Milazzo would have some discretion on his sentence, according to Wednesday’s legal filing, which does not describe the specific terms of the new deal.
David Weinstein, a former Miami federal prosecutor who has reviewed recent legal filings in the case, said the new agreement could still result in the nine-year sentence that Milazzo rejected last month. The difference would be that Sharper’s cooperation, including expected testimony against Licciardi and Nunez, would be proven.
“I think what they’re signaling is, ‘We’d really like you to give him the 108 (months) and in order to get you to do that, we’ll leave him at the mercy of the court,’ ” Weinstein said. “But he’s going to testify against these other people.”
Given his admissions, Sharper cannot risk a trial, Weinstein said.
“His best option was to continue to plead guilty, because if he goes to trial it’s going to be ugly for him,” he said. “There’s no getting up on the stand, no denying it and declaring it was consensual, that he didn’t know the victims were being given drugs. He admitted to all of that.”
The federal trial for Nunez and Licciardi, a former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office deputy, is scheduled for May. Both men have pleaded not guilty to state and federal charges in New Orleans, including aggravated rape counts that carry mandatory life prison terms if they are convicted.
Follow John Simerman on Twitter, @johnsimerman.