At first, she thought the odds were against getting justice, the woman told the federal court Thursday.

The former Saints cheerleader said she heard constant reminders about how difficult rape allegations are to prove, even when they aren’t being leveled at a football star who helped New Orleans capture its only Super Bowl title.

For a time after Darren Sharper attacked her, the woman said, she had to take medication to prevent potential HIV infection. She couldn’t brush her teeth without becoming nauseous, she said, or fall asleep without having her mother next to her.

"You gave me and the entire judicial system the big middle finger because you thought we weren't capable of stopping you," she said, looking directly at Sharper and holding back tears. "But ... your biggest mistake was the night you chose me. ... You can't do what you did to me or any other girl and get away with it -- not on my watch."

Sharper, 40, had already had his chance to speak. Sobbing, he said he apologized “1,000 times” to his victims for his “heinous decisions.”

"This is all on me -- I take full responsibility for that," he said, wearing an orange jumpsuit and shackles, with his parents and brother looking on in the courtroom. "I still don't know why I lived my life right for 38 years, and then I took this path."

Thursday was the first time, more than two years after his arrest, that Sharper or any of his victims spoke at length in public about the former football player’s brutal crimes, in which he drugged and raped, or tried to rape, nine different women in four states.

Shortly after the remarks, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo handed him a sentence of 18 years and four months in prison, having earlier this year rejected a plea agreement that would have let Sharper serve only half that much time behind bars.

The longer prison term fell within the range of 15 years to 19 years recommended by a federal probation report, based in part on the number of victims -- 16 -- who came forward with allegations about Sharper, not all of which resulted in formal charges.

Sharper has now pleaded guilty or no contest to rape changes in New Orleans, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Tempe, Arizona. The crimes he was charged with occurred between Aug. 31, 2013, and his arrest in Los Angeles on Jan. 17, 2014.

All of those crimes took place after Sharper had retired from football and was working as an NFL Network analyst, having spent 14 years in the league and winning a Super Bowl ring with the Saints in 2010.

The woman who spoke in Milazzo’s courtroom Thursday, who is not being named by the New Orleans Advocate because she was the victim of a sexual assault, was one of two women Sharper admitted drugging and raping at a condominium where he lived in the Warehouse District after a night of partying on Sept. 22, 2013.

As part of his federal plea, Sharper also admitted to three charges stemming from a conspiracy to ply women with drugs such as Ambien, Xanax, Valium and Ecstasy.

In a separate guilty plea in Orleans Parish Criminal District Court, the former player has admitted that he drugged and raped another woman a few weeks earlier at a hotel across the street from the condo.

Two co-defendants, including a former St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office sergeant, also have pleaded guilty to a variety of charges in New Orleans state and federal courthouses.

Sharper's federal sentence exceeds the 17-year prison term that the ex-deputy, Brandon Licciardi, this summer agreed to serve. Licciardi pleaded guilty to raping one woman in New Orleans and participating in the drugging scheme.

He also admitted that he provided Sharper three drugged women in New Orleans: one whom Sharper raped at his condo in September 2013, one of whom he raped at the hotel across the street a few weeks earlier and one whom he tried to have sex with after she had been raped by Licciardi.

Meanwhile, former steakhouse waiter and self-styled entertainment promoter Erik Nunez admitted to sexually battering the two women whom Sharper admitted raping at his condo. Nunez also admitted a role in the drugging scheme, agreeing to serve a 10-year federal prison term as a result of a combined deal in federal and state courts.

Licciardi, 31, and Nunez, 29, await formal sentencing in front of Milazzo. They, along with Sharper, also still face sentencing before Criminal District Court Judge Karen Herman.

Sharper, who has been jailed in St. Tammany Parish for more than a year, is due up first before Herman, next Thursday. He also awaits formal sentencing in California and Nevada.

He already has received a nine-year sentence in Arizona, which will run simultaneously with the one handed to him Thursday.

Nunez and Licciardi are tentatively scheduled to be sentenced in federal court on Oct. 13 and state court on Oct. 20. Sharper will receive credit for time he has spent behind bars awaiting the resolution of the case, and the same is expected for Nunez and Licciardi.

Sharper's federal sentence resulted from his decision to maintain his guilty pleas to the three drug counts, despite Milazzo's earlier refusal to endorse a so-called "global" plea deal that called for him to serve a nine-year stretch in federal prison to resolve the charges against him in all jurisdictions.

Milazzo found that sentence to be "inappropriate," and Sharper agreed to leave his fate in her hands rather than risk having his earlier admissions to investigators used against him at a trial.

On Thursday, one of Sharper's attorneys, Billy Gibbens, asked Milazzo to consider giving his client fewer than 15 years, noting that Sharper had helped authorities build a case against his friends Nunez and Licciardi.

He said Sharper also had been willing to take the witness stand against his accomplices, who wound up pleading guilty the week they were supposed to go to trial. He also asked that Sharper be allowed to serve his prison term as close as possible to his family in his home state of Virginia.

Several of Sharper’s family members and friends had written letters to Milazzo, urging her to consider a lighter punishment for various reasons, federal prosecutor Michael McMahon said. But McMahon pointed Milazzo to a letter from a friend of Sharper’s who said he had "abandoned his values, broke his covenant with family and close friends, and hurt women."

"What happened in this case is the worst nightmare of any parent of a daughter," McMahon said to Milazzo before she handed down the sentence, which also calls for Sharper to spend three years on federal supervised release and pay a $20,000 fine.

The victim who spoke then excoriated Sharper for once saying his love for his daughter had inspired him to participate in an NFL book designed to raise awareness of battered women.

"So rape is acceptable but not domestic violence?" she said. "Go to hell."

Follow Ramon Antonio Vargas on Twitter, @RVargasAdvocate.

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