Published August 03, 2009
NEW YORK – Former New York Giants star Plaxico Burress was indicted by a grand jury on weapons charges for shooting himself in the thigh at a Manhattan nightclub and faces a minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 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 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' former teammate Antonio Pierce, who was with Burress in the club and drove him to the hospital, was not indicted.
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.
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."
Burress was at the Latin Quarter nightclub Nov. 29 when a 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 1/2 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.
Assistant District Attorney Mark 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 over 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.