Source: Pierce 'optimistic' for Monday

Updated: August 3, 2009, 12:36 PM ET
By Sal Paolantonio | ESPN.com

ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York Giants middle linebacker Antonio Pierce is "cautiously optimistic" that a Manhattan grand jury will vote Monday to clear him of felony gun possession charges, according to a source close to Pierce.

While Pierce reported to Giants training camp Sunday, new details began to emerge about his secret two-day testimony before the Manhattan grand jury investigating the weapons possession charges against his former Giants teammate Plaxico Burress, who is out of football and awaiting whether he will be indicted.

Antonio Pierce

Pierce

"Some of the questions [from the grand jury] were accusatory, but most of them were helpful from Antonio's standpoint," said a source with knowledge of Pierce's testimony.

The grand jury, the source said, appeared to be focused on the 25 to 30 minutes after the incident that initially led New York Police Department investigators to question Pierce.

Burress accidentally shot himself in the thigh on the night of Nov. 29, 2008, at the nightclub the Latin Quarter. Pierce took Burress to the Hospital for Special Surgery on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and then allegedly drove back to New Jersey through the Holland Tunnel with Burress' Glock 9 mm .40-caliber handgun in his Cadillac Escalade glove compartment, according to investigators.

No one called New York police, as required by law, police said. The Giants called NFL security, who responded to the case immediately, as the Giants were preparing to leave for Washington to play the Redskins that weekend. Milt Ahlerich, the NFL's director of security, testified before the grand jury Thursday.

The grand jury could vote that Pierce illegally took possession of the weapon and charge him with felony possession, which carries a minimum 3½ years in prison.

Pierce's attorney, Michael F. Bachner, a former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, instructed Pierce to tell the grand jury that Pierce was attempting to save Burress' life and that he did what any "other citizen would have done."

One question investigators have long had is: Who put Burress' gun in Pierce's SUV? Some reports have suggested that a member of the nightclub security did, but no investigative conclusion has been reached.

Other questions that the prosecution wants answers to: Whom did Pierce call the night of shooting? And what instructions was he given? The Giants give all players a card instructing them to contact Charles Way, the team's director of player programs, to seek assistance. A league source said Pierce called Way for instructions on what to do with Burress and the gun -- although that has not been confirmed.

These final pieces to the puzzle could help exonerate Pierce, who believes he was just following the instructions given to him, a source close to Pierce said.

Pierce has never owned a gun, nor has he applied for a license for a weapon, according to team sources.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau is believed to be looking for an indictment of both Burress and Pierce. It takes 12 of the 23 members of the grand jury to agree with the district attorney to return an indictment.

The burden of proof is not like that of a court trial, which requires "beyond a reasonable doubt" to convict. To return an indictment, a grand jury only has to have "reasonable cause" to believe that a crime has been committed.

An announcement of a grand jury decision is expected Monday.

"Quite frankly, he is frustrated and would have liked to have had the matter cleared," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin told The Associated Press, adding that Pierce told him he couldn't wait for camp to start.

Pierce's teammates expressed nothing but support at training camp Sunday and were not concerned about the linebacker's focus.

"A.P. is my fearless leader, and I take my hat off to him for keeping his head on straight despite all his distractions," fellow linebacker Danny Clark told The Associated Press.

The Giants have their first training camp practice at the State University of New York at Albany at 8:30 a.m. Monday.

Sal Paolantonio covers the NFL for ESPN. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Sal Paolantonio

SportsCenter correspondent / NFL reporter
Sal Paolantonio joined ESPN as a SportsCenter correspondent in August 1995, primarily reporting on the NFL. Beginning in 2004, he also served as host of NFL Match-Up, a weekly "Xs and Os" football show produced by NFL Films.

ALSO SEE