Attorneys for the man accused of blackmailing New Orleans-born pro football star Tyrann Mathieu tried to turn the tables Wednesday, alleging in federal court that their client fears for his life after the athlete put bounties out on the man's family.
Geourvon Sears was arrested earlier this month on allegations that he attempted to extort money from Mathieu, his cousin, with claims that Mathieu had engaged in some type of sexual misconduct.
But during what would typically be a routine bail-setting hearing Wednesday, defense attorneys argued that the victim in the case was actually Sears, who they said had been threatened by the football star known as the "Honey Badger."
Under questioning by Claude Kelly and Celia Rhoads of the federal Public Defenders Office, Sears' relatives said his mental state had been deteriorating and was then worsened by threats from Mathieu after a recent falling-out between the two.
George Sears, Geourvon's brother, described seeing texts from Mathieu which contained photos of Sears family members next to dollar amounts of $2,000 and $5,000. Both George Sears and his mother, Toya Robinson, said they interpreted that to mean Mathieu was offering $2,000 if one of those people was harmed and $5,000 if the whole group was.
George Sears also described a subsequent text in which he alleged that Mathieu threatened to break "every bone" in his face.
An agent for Mathieu, Denise White, said it was "nonsense" that the seven-year NFL safety ever threatened Geourvon Sears, who had previously lived with Mathieu. White, without elaborating, said Geourvon's claims were fueled by Mathieu's recent decision to financially cut off members of the Sears family.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph Wilkinson said some of the testimony and arguments he heard on behalf of Sears weren't credible, even though Sears' attorneys presented text messages supporting their claims.
The case against Sears, 21, dates back to late April, when Mathieu and some of his associates reported to the FBI that Sears had threatened to go public with unspecified claims of sexual misconduct unless Mathieu coughed up money — first $1.5 million, later $5 million — to keep him quiet.
They also accused Sears of threatening to kill them; they turned over text messages and voice memos to buttress their accusations.
Federal authorities became involved because Sears, a New Orleans East resident, was in different states from some of the people he allegedly contacted last month, including Mathieu. Sears was arrested in early May and posted a $25,000 bond to secure his release.
But according to testimony Wednesday, Sears cut off an ankle monitor and also went to a vacant home next door to his mother’s house, violating the terms of his bail.
The feds took him back into custody, and testimony Wednesday revealed that he tested positive this week for marijuana as well as the painkillers Tramadol and oxycodone.
Federal prosecutor Spiro Latsis asked Wilkinson to deny Sears further bail and to keep him in jail until the outcome of the case is decided. Wilkinson agreed.
However, that ruling turned out to be only a small part of an unexpectedly dramatic hearing, with Latsis accusing Sears’ attorneys of trying to convert the proceeding into a trial of Mathieu’s character.
Robinson, Sears' mother, testified about another alleged text from Mathieu, which called her son “a demonic (N-word)” whose claims had triggered NFL officials to set up a meeting with Mathieu.
According to Robinson, Mathieu said in a text that the Sears family had won “this round” but that he would “be back.”
The relatives also claimed that Mathieu, 27, slowly circled Robinson’s house in a luxury car Saturday night while Sears stood outside. They said Sears was shaken by the sight of his estranged cousin staring him down and warned his mother that Mathieu — who was in town hosting offseason charity events — could kill her, too.
Additionally, Kelly spent some time questioning the impartiality of the investigator who wrote up the criminal complaint that led to Sears’ arrest: Chad Cockerham, a New Orleans policeman assigned to the FBI.
Kelly pressed Cockerham to answer whether he had clicked the “like” button under a social media photo announcing Mathieu’s recent engagement. Cockerham said he didn’t recall.
Kelly also established that Cockerham was at Mathieu’s side for much of his trip to New Orleans over the weekend. Cockerham said he was simply giving peace of mind to Mathieu, who requested extra security because of concern about the situation with Sears.
Kelly contended there was reason to fear that Cockerham’s complaint was tainted by bias.
“The case today is not what it appeared to be at first,” said Kelly, adding that he and Rhoads would work to get their client mentally evaluated.
Wilkinson said he didn’t believe there was much evidence in the record to support the defense's case in general, and the hearing adjourned shortly after the judge revoked Sears’ bail.
Sears has yet to enter a plea in the case.
A St. Augustine High School graduate and former Heisman Trophy finalist, Mathieu helped LSU’s football team reach the national championship game at the end of the 2011 season.
He was a 2013 third-round draft selection by the Arizona Cardinals, with whom he played his first five NFL seasons. He played for the Houston Texans last year and is now with the Kansas City Chiefs.
A relative of New Orleans-born pro football star Tyrann Mathieu threatened to go public with sexual misconduct allegations against the athlete…