Burress pleads guilty on felony charge

Updated: August 21, 2009, 11:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Facing the prospect of spending at least 3½ years behind bars, one-time Super Bowl star Plaxico Burress on Thursday accepted a plea bargain with a two-year prison sentence for a firearm charge. The charge stemmed from an incident in which Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub.

The former New York Giants wide receiver pleaded guilty to one count of attempted criminal possession of a weapon, a lesser charge than he had faced. He will be sentenced Sept. 22, and lawyer Benjamin Brafman said he expects Burress to begin serving his sentence immediately after.

Burress got into a black SUV without speaking to reporters outside a Manhattan courthouse, but Brafman said, "After an agonizing period of discussion, Plaxico decided that he wanted to do this, to put this behind him as quickly as possible."

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
AP Photo/Seth WenigPlaxico Burress, leaving a courthouse in Manhattan with his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, will be sentenced Sept. 22.

Burress was indicted earlier this month on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment. He faced a minimum sentence of 3½ years if convicted at trial.

Hours after Burress' court appearance, the NFL announced that commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended the receiver and said Burress is ineligible to sign with any team until he completes his prison term. After that, Burress may sign with an NFL team without further review.

Goodell, who met with Burress and his representatives last week, decided the case didn't need to be reviewed again later because he already had decided to suspend Burress for one season, sources told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.

If Burress had entered a not-guilty plea Thursday, Goodell would have suspended him for the upcoming season, sources told Mortensen.

The guilty plea ends months of haggling between Brafman and the Manhattan district attorney's office. The case went to a grand jury after negotiations broke down, apparently because District Attorney Robert Morgenthau was insisting that Burress serve at least two years in prison.

Morgenthau did not comment on Burress' guilty plea.

This was not an intentional criminal act. In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment.

-- Benjamin Brafman, Plaxico Burress' attorney

Assistant District Attorney John Wolfstaetter said in court that Thursday was Burress' last chance to accept the deal.

Burress, wearing a dark blue suit and appearing subdued, first entered a not-guilty plea to the initial charges against him. After Brafman informed Judge Michael Melkonian that Burress had decided to plead to the lesser charge, Burress said "guilty" to attempted weapons possession in the second degree.

Brafman said Burress, 32, was thinking of his family in taking the plea, but the attorney questioned the recommended prison sentence.

"This was not an intentional criminal act," Brafman said. "In my judgment, a two-year prison sentence is a very severe punishment."

With time off for good behavior, Burress likely will serve 20 months. He will be monitored during an additional two years of supervised release.

The Giants released Burress in April; he had not signed with a new team.

"I have spoken with John Mara, Steve Tisch, Jerry Reese and Tom Coughlin this morning, and to a person, they had the same reaction: This has been a tragic, sad, disappointing situation from the beginning," Giants vice president of communications Pat Hanlon said in a statement. "Our concern has always been for Plax's welfare, and that continues to be our overriding feeling."

Burress' former teammates likewise were saddened by Thursday's news.

"He is a friend of mine, a great teammate. We won a championship with him. I am saddened by the news -- two years," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Again, I just wish the best for him and his family and try to support him any way we can."

In the final minute of the 2008 Super Bowl, Burress caught the winning touchdown from Manning in the Giants' victory over the New England Patriots.

Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck said his heart sank when he learned of the plea.

"Today when I heard the news, my heart went out to him and his family, and obviously I'm just hoping that everything turns out all right in the end," Tuck said.

Burress and former teammate Antonio Pierce were at the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan in late November 2008 when a gun tucked into Burress' waistband slipped down his leg and fired, shooting him in the right thigh.

The bullet narrowly missed a nightclub security guard who was standing inches away, prosecutors said. It lodged in the floor and was recovered by a bartender.

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

Prosecutors said Pierce drove Burress to a hospital, then took the gun to his own home in New Jersey. It was later delivered to Burress' home.

Pierce was not indicted. The grand jury 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.

Brafman called the case "a perfect example about how bad judgment can have very serious consequences," and said Burress was treated more harshly because he is a celebrity.

"If Plaxico Burress were not a high-profile individual, there never would be a case," he said. "If he were just John Q Public, he could have walked out of the club and he never would have been arrested."

Burress would make a statement at his sentencing, Brafman said, adding that he did not know where Burress would serve his time.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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