Attorney trying to resolve Burress' case
The attorney for Plaxico Burress has been in constant communication with the Manhattan district attorney's office for months, trying to get the charges against Burress resolved so that the New York Giants wide receiver can avoid a lengthy trial with the goal of returning to the NFL in time for the 2009 season, a source with knowledge of those conversations said Thursday.
Burress is expected to appear in Manhattan criminal court Tuesday morning for a pre-trial hearing. So far, no plea arrangement has been reached.
"Stay tuned," a source close to the case said Thursday.
After accidentally shooting himself in a Manhattan night club last Nov. 29, Burress was arraigned Dec. 1 on two counts of second-degree criminal possession of a loaded and unlicensed weapon, a Glock semi-automatic pistol, which is a felony and carries a mandatory minimum jail sentence of 3½ years.
Noted criminal defense attorney Benjamin Brafman, who represents Burress, did not return phone calls. A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, who has been under intense public pressure since the start of this case to prosecute Burress to the fullest extent of the law, declined to comment.
But others, including many of Burress' teammates, have been lobbying publicly for a more lenient solution to the case. A spokesman for the Giants said Thursday that other than cooperating with authorities, the team has had no involvement in the case and has not lobbied to get the charges against Burress reduced.
The most common way to avoid the three-and-half years mandatory minimum sentence is to get the charge lowered to a third-degree possession.
But last year, in New York City, nearly 80 percent of the people convicted of a third-degree charge still ended up behind bars, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services. Of those people, 41 percent ended up serving more than one year in jail; 24 percent ended up serving one year in jail; 6 percent less than one year in jail, and 6 percent had a mixture of jail and probation 24 percent only had probation.
Burress wants to resolve his case without a trial so that he can begin the process of returning to the team. He was suspended by the Giants for four games without pay at the end of last season.
But the process of returning to the team fold will involve much more than what happens in court. If and when his case is resolved, Burress would then face a possible fine or suspension from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
After that, league sources say, the Giants front office and coach Tom Coughlin want to meet with Burress to determine his level of remorse and commitment to returning as a productive and responsible member of the team.
The ordeal began four months ago at a time when the Giants were riding high in the NFC East.
According to the complaint filed in Manhattan criminal court, Burress arrived at the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan just before midnight on Nov. 28 with four others, including teammates Antonio Pierce and Ahmad Bradshaw. The other members of their party were not football players, according to police. At 12:05 a.m., a single gunshot was heard.
A witness told police that Burress was sitting near the V.I.P. area of the club holding a drink in his left hand and fidgeting with his right hand in the area of the waistline of his pants. The witness then heard a single "pop" sound before hearing Burress say, "Take me to the hospital."
Burress was on the ground, with his legs shaking, when a bloody gun -- a .40-caliber Glock -- fell out of his pantleg and onto the floor, according to the complaint. Sometime later, Burress, who does not have a permit to carry a handgun in New York City, was treated and released at a hospital before returning to his New Jersey home.
At the time, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lashed out at Burress for carrying an illegal handgun. He also criticized New York Presbyterian Hospital for failing to inform the police about Burress' gun-related injury, as city law requires. And he questioned the motives of the Giants, who also neglected to notify the authorities.
"Our children are getting killed with guns in the streets. Our police officers are getting killed with guns in the hands of criminals, and because of that, we got the State Legislature to pass a law that if you carry a loaded handgun, you get automatically 3½ years in the slammer," Bloomberg told reporters. "I don't think that anybody should be exempt from that, and I think it would be an outrage if we didn't prosecute to the fullest extent of the law, particularly people who live in the public domain, make their living because of their visibility. They are the role models for our kids."
Bloomberg said the Giants should have immediately notified authorities of the shooting. He said police learned of the incident from watching television.
All of that ratcheted up the pressure on the district attorney to not allow Burress off lightly because he was a celebrity athlete and member of the defending Super Bowl champions.
Enter Brafman, who said at the time that he wanted to go underground with the case, take it out of the public eye and prevail on the authorities that Burress was not a criminal, that the case was a terrible accident and Burress the only victim.
"People should reserve judgment on Mr. Burress until all the facts are in this case are in," Brafman said at the time.
Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN.