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Darren Sharper rape case returns to LA court amid new charges and possible release at stake

Former NFL All-Pro safety Darren Sharper returns to court Thursday for a hearing that will determine whether he's released on bail amid new charges that he drugged and sexually assaulted two women last year in Arizona.

The athlete has been in a Los Angeles jail since Feb. 27, when he turned himself in on an arrest warrant issued by Louisiana authorities on similar charges. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Renee Korn said last week that she could not hold Sharper indefinitely unless he was charged in New Orleans, which has not yet happened.

The indictment in Tucson, Ariz., will give Los Angeles prosecutors another opportunity to argue that Sharper should remain in custody, despite being freed on $1 million after pleading not guilty to charges he drugged and raped two women in Los Angeles County. District Attorney spokeswoman Jane Robison declined comment on how prosecutors would treat the new charge in court Thursday, but prosecutors have said they want their case handled before any others.

In addition to the accusations in Arizona, California and Louisiana, Sharper remains under investigation that he drugged and raped women in Nevada and Florida. His attorneys have said they expect the former player to be exonerated in the Los Angeles case.

"We know that Darren will vigorously deny the allegations," Sharper's Arizona attorney Skip Donau said Wednesday. "We are hopeful of vindication."

In a bail motion filed last month, an investigator described a pattern in which the former football star met women at clubs or parties and lured them to a hotel room, where they were allegedly drugged and raped.

The New Orleans warrant says police learned from witnesses that Sharper and an associate had acknowledged having nonconsensual sex with two women. Sharper's attorneys say he never made such statements.

The warrant does not elaborate on how the information was obtained or disclose the names of the witnesses.

Sharper was selected All-Pro six times and chosen for the Pro Bowl five times. He played in two Super Bowls, one with the Green Bay Packers as a rookie and was part of a successful championship run while with the New Orleans Saints.

He retired after the 2010 season and was working as an analyst for the NFL Network before being fired recently.

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Associated Press Writer Jacques Billeaud in Phoenix contributed to this report. Anthony McCartney can be reached at http://twitter.com/mccartneyAP