Burress begins sentence in gun case

Updated: September 23, 2009, 3:10 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- One-time Super Bowl hero Plaxico Burress was sentenced to two years in prison Tuesday for violating New York's stringent gun laws and was immediately taken into custody following his hearing.

Burress agreed to a plea deal last month and pleaded guilty to a lesser firearms charge. The charges stemmed from an incident late last fall, in which Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub with a gun that had not been licensed in New York.

He is expected to serve about 20 months with credit for good behavior -- meaning he could be released as early as the spring of 2011 -- followed by two years of probation.

Burress arrived at the courthouse at 9:41 a.m. ET on Tuesday wearing a jeans and a long-sleeved T-shirt, a stark contrast to the dark blue suit he wore last month when he entered his guilty plea.

He was accompanied by his pregnant wife, Tiffany; his almost 3-year-old son, Elijah, whom he carried; his father and stepmother; and his grandmother.

[+] EnlargePlaxico Burress
AP Photo/ Louis LanzanoFormer Giants receiver Plaxico Burress carried his son, Elijah, into court on Tuesday, and then told him goodbye.

Before the sentencing began, Burress asked for and was granted permission by Judge Michael Melkonian to say one last goodbye to his wife and family, seated in the fifth row of the courthouse.

The hearing was brief, as the prosecution and defense told the judge they had previously agreed to the guilty plea and two-year sentence.

A soft-spoken Burress then apologized to his family and fans and thanked them for their support. "We will all get through this," he said.

He was then taken into custody.

The Giants, through spokesman Pat Hanlon, said, "This has been a tragic, sad, disappointing situation from the beginning. Our concern has always been for Plax's welfare, and for his family, and that continues to be our overriding feeling."

Michael Strahan, a former Giants teammate who is now an NFL television analyst, used his Twitter account to support Burress: "My Thoughts and Prayers are with my man Plaxico and his family today!!!"

Antonio Pierce, also a former Giants teammate who was with Burress the night of the incident, and former Giants linebacker Kawika Mitchell, now with the Buffalo Bills, re-tweeted the Strahan comment.

Burress was transported to Rikers Island jail in New York, where he arrived at 1:20 p.m. ET, according to Steve Morello, a deputy commissioner with the New York City Department of Corrections.

Burress was moved Wednesday morning to Ulster Correctional Facility, a medium-security prison, in Napanoch, N.Y., on the edge of Catskill State Park. There, he will undergo further processing, including getting state-issue clothing and a strip search.

After the sentencing on Tuesday, his defense attorney, Benjamin Brafman, called the case "terribly sad and very tragic."

"This has been a very emotional experience for him," Brafman said. "He's sad about what he's done to his life, his career, and more importantly to his family. He's a fundamentally good man who has used bad judgment and is going to pay a very, very severe penalty."

The case went to a grand jury after months of negotiations between prosecutors and Burress' defense attorney broke down, apparently because Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau insisted that the former New York Giants wide receiver serve at least two years in prison for violating the city's strict gun laws. Mayor Michael Bloomberg had also publicly called for Burress to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

On July 29, Burress took the rare and risky step of testifying before the grand jury, hoping to convince the panel that the gun was not used in the commission of a crime and that he was the lone victim. But days later, Burress was indicted 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.

On Aug. 20, the day he was to be arraigned, Burress agreed to a plea deal and pleaded guilty to attempted weapons possession in the second degree.

Hours after Burress pleaded guilty, the NFL announced that commissioner Roger Goodell had 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.

Burress, a nine-year veteran with the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers, became a Super Bowl hero when he caught the winning touchdown pass in the last minute of the Giants' 17-14 upset win over the previously unbeaten New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

Burress and Pierce were at the Latin Quarter nightclub in Manhattan in late November 2008 when a gun that was 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, who also testified before the grand jury, was not charged.

The Giants released Burress in April, but the 32-year-old told ESPN he hopes to resume his NFL career when he completes his sentence.

"When I get out, I'll be 33, not 43," Burress said in an interview broadcast in August. "I'll still be able to run and catch. I'll still have the God-given ability to snag footballs; that's what I love to do. Of course, I want to play again."

Gil Brandt, an analyst on NFL Sirius Radio and the former head of player personnel for the Dallas Cowboys, said Burress won't be too old for a comeback when he's released from prison.

"First of all, Plaxico is a guy who keeps himself in pretty good shape," Brandt said. "Lots of times guys get heavy in the offseason. He is not a guy who has done that."

ESPN reporter Sal Paolantonio and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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