Judge refuses to lower bail for Sharper’s alleged accomplice _lowres

Erik Nunez

A judge refused Friday to reduce the $2.5 million bail she set last month for Erik Nunez, a co-defendant indicted for rape along with former Saints star Darren Sharper.

Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman said she took “very, very seriously” a grand jury’s decision last month to charge Nunez with two counts of aggravated rape — a charge that carries an automatic life sentence — and an additional count of obstruction of justice.

Nunez and Sharper are accused of raping two women in September 2013 at Sharper’s apartment in the 700 block of Tchoupitoulas Street. The women told police they woke up in a stupor and thought they had been raped while under the influence of an unknown substance.

Several people told authorities that Sharper and Nunez claimed to have had sex with the women without their consent, according to arrest warrants.

A third defendant in the case, Brandon Licciardi, a former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff’s Office sergeant, is charged with trafficking the alleged victims.

At a hearing Friday, Jeffery Smith, Nunez’s defense attorney, argued that his bail should be lowered to $400,000, the amount originally set after Nunez’s arrest last year, several months before the December indictment. Unlike Sharper, Smith said, Nunez has not been accused of previously raping other women.

Nunez’s family and friends, exhausting their life savings, came up with $52,000 to bail Nunez out of jail — 13 percent of $400,000, Smith said. But because Nunez’s bond increased to $2.5 million after his indictment, that money is gone and Nunez still must remain behind bars awaiting trial, he said.

“He’s appeared every time he’s been asked to appear,” Smith said, noting he was monitored by a local bonding company for about 10 months. “He’s committed no crimes.”

Assistant District Attorney Inga Petrovich, in a brief rebuttal, rejected what she said was Smith’s suggestion that “two victims is not enough” to justify the bail amount. “He does not have one of these charges,” she said. “He has two.”

Herman said she might reconsider the bail amount as the case continues and she learns more about the state’s evidence against Nunez.

She also denied a defense motion Friday that sought to get the charges thrown out based on how she was chosen as the judge in the case. Nunez’s attorneys have argued that District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office essentially hand-picked Herman by manipulating court rules.

The system allots cases to judges depending on the alleged date of the offense contained in a bill of information or indictment. When more than one crime is alleged, the date of the earliest offense determines which judge ultimately gets the case. The court posts on its website each morning which section of court, or judge, will be assigned crimes allegedly committed on that date.

Defense attorney Herb Larson argued Friday that the allotment system is unconstitutional and violated his client’s right to due process. He said the system can be gamed by prosecutors choosing a nebulous range of dates during which a crime allegedly took place.

In the Sharper case, the first charge against Licciardi claims he trafficked in human beings sometime between July 1, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2012 — an accusation that doesn’t appear to involve either Sharper or Nunez. Crimes committed on July 1 were assigned to Herman.

Herman, however, said the defense failed to prove there had been any actual manipulation.

Sharper, 39, who remains jailed in Los Angeles, faces similar claims of drugging and raping women in several states.

Sharper, who played in the NFL from 1997 to 2010, joining the Saints in 2009, was also named in a six-count federal indictment last month that accused him and Licciardi of conspiring to distribute alprazolam, diazepam and zolpidem — a sedative commonly known under the brand name Ambien — with the intent to commit rape, as well as two counts of distributing the substances with the intent to commit rape.

Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.