NEW YORK – Facing the prospect of spending at least 3 1/2 years behind bars, one-time Super Bowl star Plaxico Burress on Thursday accepted a plea bargain with a two-year prison sentence for accidentally shooting 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 Manhattan state Supreme Court, 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."
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The ex-football star 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 3 1/2 years if convicted at a trial.
Hours after his court appearance, the NFL announced commissioner Roger Goodell had suspended Burress and said he is ineligible to sign with any team until he completes his jail term. Goodell, who met with Burress and his representatives last week, said Burress will be reinstated upon completion of his sentence.
Burress' 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.
Assistant District attorney John Wolfstaetter said in court that Thursday was Burress' last chance to accept the deal.
Burress, looking subdued and wearing a dark blue suit, 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 the 32-year-old Burress 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 will likely serve 20 months. He will be monitored during an additional two years of supervised release.
He also could face disciplinary action by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The NFL did not immediately comment Thursday.
Brafman said he hoped any discipline imposed by the league could be concurrent with the prison sentence so that Burress could resume his career when he is released, which could come as early as the spring of 2011.
The Giants released Burress in April, but his former teammates said they 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."
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, who caught the winning touchdown for the Giants over the New England Patriots in the final minute of the 2008 Super Bowl, and former teammate Antonio Pierce were at the Latin Quarter nightclub in late November 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.