Burress indicted on 3 weapons counts

Updated: August 4, 2009, 11:54 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Former New York Giants star Plaxico Burress was indicted by a grand jury on weapons charges after accidentally shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub and faces a minimum prison sentence of 3 years if convicted, prosecutors announced Monday.

The indictment charged the 31-year-old Burress with two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment, Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said.

"The grand jury applied the law to the facts of this case," Morgenthau said. He said the accidental shooting at the Latin Quarter nightclub on Nov. 29 ast year was treated "like any similar case against any other defendant."

Burress' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the indictment, which came after Burress testified before the grand jury and expressed remorse.

"When you have the mayor and the district attorney both publicly demanding a maximum prison sentence, it was perhaps too much to hope for the grand jury to conduct a sympathetic review of the unique facts of this sad case," Brafman said in a statement.

Burress will appear at 9:30 a.m. ET on Sept. 23 for his arraignment in Manhattan Supreme Court, according to a spokesperson for the New York State Office of Court Adminstration.

The date is subject to change based on availability of the parties involved.

"It would remain possible for the case to be advanced to an earlier date, in the event the parties reach agreement," Manhattan Chief Assistant District Attorney Mark Dwyer told ESPN's Kelly Naqi. "But it is impossible to predict anything like that now."

Burress' former teammate Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress at the club and drove him to the hospital, was not indicted. Immediately after the decision was announced, the NFL said Pierce would not face a league suspension.

The panel also did not indict the nightclub security guard who carried the gun to Pierce's car or the hospital staff members who failed to notify police that Burress had been shot.

Morgenthau said hospital personnel were guilty of "a screw-up rather than a cover-up" and the security guard exhibited "bad judgment in the first degree" but did not commit a crime.

Pierce, who also testified before the grand jury last week, was practicing with the Giants in Albany when he learned of the panel's decision. He did not speak with the media on Monday, but is expected to read a statement between practice sessions Tuesday, team officials said.

Giants president John Mara said the team was pleased that the linebacker was not indicted.

"We said last week we felt strongly that Antonio's actions did not warrant criminal charges, and obviously the grand jury, having heard all of the testimony, felt the same way," he said.

Pierce's lawyer, Michael Bachner, said: "By appearing before the grand jury for almost three hours and answering the grand jury's very direct and very considered questions, it was clear to us that they understood that Mr. Pierce acted as any citizen under extraordinary circumstances would have acted."

Giants coach Tom Coughlin was glad the matter was now behind the team.

"As I said yesterday, we are anxious to start the new season, nobody more than Antonio," Coughlin said. "Today's decision allows him and this team to move forward and focus on our preparation for the season."

Having Pierce on the field is important to the Giants, because he calls the defensive plays.

"Antonio is a leader on this team, but he is still human, and this has been an emotionally draining experience for him," general manager Jerry Reese said. "We know he was happy to get to training camp [Sunday], and with this behind him, he can focus all his energy and efforts on football. He took this matter very seriously."

Burress was inside the club when the gun, tucked into his waistband, slipped down his leg and fired, shooting him in the right thigh.

Prosecutors said Monday that after taking Burress to the hospital, Pierce drove the gun to his own home in New Jersey -- not to Burress' home, as was originally reported. They said he later arranged for it to be taken to Burress' home.

Assistant District Attorney John Wolfstaetter said the bullet that hit Burress narrowly missed a nightclub security guard who was standing inches away.

The bullet lodged in the floor and was recovered by a bartender, Morgenthau said.

"He wanted it as a souvenir but we told him he had to turn it over," he said.

The gun was not licensed in New York or in New Jersey, where Burress lived, prosecutors said. Burress' license to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida had expired in May 2008.

The charges Burress was indicted on carry a mandatory minimum sentence of 3 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty to weapons charges earlier this year and is free on $100,000 bail.

The grand jury indictment comes after plea bargain negotiations broke down, apparently because Morgenthau was insisting that Burress serve at least two years in prison under any plea agreement.

Dwyer said it is standard policy to request a two-year sentence as part of a plea bargain on such serious charges.

Burress, who caught the winning touchdown for the Giants against the New England Patriots in the final minute of the 2008 Super Bowl, also could face disciplinary action by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

Goodell's office announced in June that the league already had started its examination of the shooting, and NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Monday's indictment "will be considered as part of that review."

The Giants released Burress in April and he has yet to sign with another team.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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