Burress Pleads Guilty
UPDATED (4:16 p.m.)...
Former New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress pleaded guilty Thursday to a weapon charge, stemming from the incident last year in which he accidentally shot himself in the leg at a New York nightclub, and agreed to a two-year prison sentence.
Burress pleaded guilty, according to reports, to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon, a reduced charge. He agreed to a two-year prison sentence--of which he is likely to serve approximately 20 months, his attorney said--and two years of supervised release under a plea deal.
He is scheduled to be back in court Sept. 22 to be sentenced. Benjamin Brafman, Burress's attorney, said he expects Burress to begin serving his prison term immediately at that point.
"The decision to plead guilty has been an agonizing decision, quite frankly," Brafman said at a news conference. "It wasn't until just a couple of days ago that we had an understanding that we were going to come to a decision today.... We talked about this again and again and again, and came to realize that now that he's been indicted, there is just no way out and getting this behind him sooner is the best thing for everyone."
The NFL announced later in the day that Burress had been suspended but will be reinstated upon the completion of his jail term.
Burress appeared in court Thursday for what was to be his arraignment.
Brafman previously had been unable to agree to a plea deal with prosecutors. According to reports, Burress previously had been unwilling to agree to more than one year in prison under the terms of a plea agreement while prosecutors had been adamant about seeking two years.
A Manhattan grand jury had indicted Burress on two felony counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree and one misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment in the second degree. He faced 3-1/2 to 15 years in prison if convicted of the weapon possession charges, and up to one year in jail if convicted of the reckless endangerment charge, according to prosecutors.
"This is a sad day because I think a very good man who is a brilliant athlete is going to unfortunately spend 20 months in prison when he had no intent to violate the law," Brafman said. "I give Plaxico a great deal of credit for accepting responsibility, recognizing that he had to accept responsibility. It was a hard decision in a case like this because as all of you know, the facts in this case have never been in dispute from day one. This is a perfect example in many ways of bad judgment sometimes has very terrible consequences, consequences far more severe than may be justified, in my view.
"... We tried for eight months to get a plea to less than two years, without success. If he went to trial and were convicted, he would face a significantly greater prison sentence.... After an agonizing period of discussion, Plaxico decided that he wanted to do this, put this behind him as quickly as possible in the hope that when he is released, he will be able to resume his stellar professional football career."
Burress is a free agent after being released in the offseason by the Giants.
The NFL issued a written statement Thursday that said: "Plaxico Burress is not under contract to an NFL team. In light of his plea today, Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended Burress and informed him that he is ineligible to sign with any team until he completes his jail term. Commissioner Goodell said Burress will be reinstated and eligible to sign with an NFL team upon the completion of his sentence."
According to the NFL's written statement, Goodell and other league officials conducted a hearing last week in New York with Burress and his representatives. Burress was notified in June, according to the league's statement, that Goodell had initiated a review of the matter under the NFL's personal conduct and weapons policies.
Brafman had expressed the hope earlier in the day that any suspension by the NFL would run concurrent with Burress's prison term. The attorney said he was hopeful that Burress could resume his NFL career after being released from jail.
"He is 32," Brafman said. "He will be done with his prison sentence by the time he is 34. And if he stays healthy and in shape, we think he still has years ahead of him as a professional athlete."
Brafman said both in and outside court there was no defense he could have provided against the charges if the case had gone to trial.
"We tried our best to negotiate a better plea," Brafman said during his news conference. "We tried our best to convince the grand jury to have compassion. There were not facts that we could argue in this case. The gun was recovered. It was his gun. It was registered in his name. It was turned over by him to the police. The Giants were alerted within minutes after the incident happened that Plaxico shot himself. This was never a who-done-it. There were never disputed facts. This was a question of trying to find a way out of this horrible legal predicament with the least amount of punishment possible, and this is unfortunately where it ended."
Brafman said of the mandatory minimum 3-1/2-year jail term that Burress was facing if convicted of the original weapons charges: "Taking away discretion from the courts, sometimes this statute creates a far more serious sentence than the circumstances of the particular case really call for."
Of Burress, Brafman said: "He is sad. He is disappointed in himself, unhappy because he is a good man facing prison. But to his credit, he has understood that he did something wrong. He violated the law and unfortunately in this case, it comes with a very, very steep price."
Burress testified before the grand jury in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid being indicted. The grand jury voted not to indict Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, who accompanied Burress to the nightclub on the night of the incident last November and allegedly was in possession of the gun after the shooting.
When Burress was indicted, the Manhattan district attorney's office issued a written statement that said in part: "At the time the defendant shot himself, he was not licensed to carry or possess that pistol in either New York or New Jersey, where he had a home. His license to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida had expired in May of 2008. Even if that license had not expired, the states of New York and New Jersey do not recognize out-of-state concealed weapon carry licenses."
Robert M. Morgenthau, the Manhattan district attorney, previously had said publicly that prosecutors believed Burress should spend time in jail, whether through a conviction or plea deal.
When Burress was indicted, Morgenthau said in a written statement released by his office: "In this case, we conducted a thorough investigation and then presented the evidence to the grand jury, which evaluated the facts under the applicable law. The case required a more protracted investigation than does a typical weapons possession case, given the number of witnesses and the need to investigate events both before and after the shooting. The case was treated like any similar case against any other defendant. Ultimately, the grand jury did what it thought was fair."
Burress has 505 catches for 7,845 yards and 55 touchdowns in nine NFL seasons, five for the Pittsburgh Steelers and four for the Giants. He had the game-winning touchdown catch in the Giants' upset of the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in the Super Bowl at the conclusion of the 2007 season.
Giants spokesman Pat Hanlon wrote on Twitter that he'd spoken to co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch, General Manager Jerry Reese and Coach Tom Coughlin "and to a person, they had the same reaction, that this has been a tragic, sad, disappointing situation from the beginning. Our concern has always been for Plax's welfare, and that continues to be our overriding feeling."
Giants quarterback Eli Manning told reporters, according to a transcript provided by the team: "It's just sad. You know, I'm disappointed and just feel bad for how this worked out, and the circumstances that he has been put through, and his family. So, no one wanted this to happen and it's just a shame that it did.... I would hope that, you know, he would want to come back [to the NFL after his prison term] and someone would give him a shot. I guess this is all going to depend on the circumstances and how it works out, but I hope that he does get a shot."
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