Why Was NFL Star Plaxico Burress Indicted?

Why was NFL star Plaxico Burress indicted?

There seems to be no end to the “star athlete as criminal” news this summer. Late in 2008, star NFL receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally discharged a weapon in a New York City night club, injuring himself and frightening the club’s patrons. He (and his fellow player Antonio Pierce, who drove him to the hospital and allegedly helped hide the gun) was arrested on gun charges, and New York law enforcement officials soon made it clear that Burress was facing serious trouble. You see, New York takes their gun law quite seriously.

On Monday, August 3, a grand jury indicted the former Giants receiver on two seperate counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment — three charges for effectively shooting himself and ending his football career. The craziest part — Burress faces a minimum 3 1/2 years in prison if he is convicted. This seems like a stiff penalty for a guy who put a bullet in his own leg, especially considering what happened (or didn’t happen) to Donte Stallworth after that NFL player killed a person while driving drunk — and got less than 30 days in jail for it.

More player controversy is not what this league needed.

Giants linebacker, and Burress’ alleged partner in crime Antonio Pierce, was not indicted and will not face charges or any suspension from the NFL.

Antonio Pierce, just 30 years old, was at the Latin Quarter club with Plaxico Burress, who is not much older at 31, when Buress allegedly misfired a pistol he carried in the front waistband of his jeans and shot himself in the right thigh. Plax’s friend helped “arrange” for someone to remove Burress’ gun and the gun’s magazine from the crime scene, sending them over to Antonio Pierce’s home. Pierce then had the gun returned back to Plaxico Burress’ home the day after the incident, which is where the gun was when police recovered it. The big problem here is that Plaxico Burress is not licensed to own or carry a firearm in either New York or New Jersey, the state where he lives.

Shortly after Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau announced the grand jury’s decision, an NFL spokesman said: “In light of today’s grand jury decision, we see no basis for a suspension of Antonio Pierce.”

Burress faces a maximum prison sentence of 15 years on the two counts of criminal weapon possession, which is a class C violent felony. The one time big name football player also faces a maximum one year prison term on the endangerment charge, which is a lesser crime — a class A misdemeanor. There is curently no date set for Plaxico Burress’ arraignment in New York State Supreme Court. His attorney released a brief statement late yesterday, saying that he himself “doesn’t expect the trial to begin until spring”.

Reading the statement a little deeper, we find this gem from Plax’s attorney — “Although disappointed, we are not surprised, as the facts of this case have not been in dispute since the date of the incident. 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.”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — but why should superstar athletes be held to any lighter standard when they commit crimes? These people, like it or not, are role models for a certain segment of the population, and now that it seems the entirety of the NFL has a mugshot, some (like me) believe it’s time that these players stepped up and held down that role.

Put simply — Plaxico Burress, who just happens to be a star athlete and something of a celeb, will be headed to prison like any person who carries an illegal weapon in New York. Burress’ actions show little regard for public safety — and why would a star athlete need a pistol anyway? Can’t he hire a bodyguard like the rest of the celebrity world?

I think we owe a debt of gratitude to the grand jury that decided yesterday to charge Plaxico Burress to the fullest extent that the law allowed. Think of it this way — if you or I hit a person while driving drunk, or shot off an illegal weapon in a night club, or ran dog fighting ring, what would happen to us? Who would be there to give us a soft landing? No one — and these players should face the full penalties available to the courts just like the rest of us. For Burress, the future looks bleak — and that isn’t something I’ll celebrate. Burress was a joy to watch, whether he was catching passes or answering media questions. Unfortunately for the one time Giants receiver, he will likely spend at least the next two seasons in a cell, and after he gets out (in his mid thirties) who knows if any team will have him?

I hope that Burress can see a silver lining here. Every day that he spends in prison watching his old teammates play on television, he’ll act as a kind of warning to those considering carrying illicit weapons. Like Michael Vick before him, Burress could become a warning of “what could happen” to teenagers across the country.

There were so many bad decisions on the night of November 29, 2008 — the first poor choice was when Burress decided to cross the state line from New Jersey into New York with an illegal .40-caliber pistol. Another bad decision — bringing the gun into the night club and hiding it in such a way that it would go off accidentally. The last bad choice — Antonio Pierce deciding to hide the weapon for his teammate and friend.

Surprisingly, the grand jusry gave the gun hiding Antonio Pierce a “get out of jail free” card — was it because Pierce eventually cooperated? Did Pierce cut a plea bargain? We don’t know yet. According to legal analysts, the grand jury likely saw Pierce as a victim of Plaxico Burress’ reckless behavior. Count your lucky stars, Pierce.

The jury also chose not to indict a security guard who transported Burress’ gun out of the club and into Pierce’s car — hospital staff, who were in trouble for failing to notify police of the shooting incident as required by law — also got off without so much as a slap on the wrist. The security worker for the night club merely exhibited “bad judgment” according to the grad jury panel, and the hospital staff? They committed a major screw up, but the grand jury could not find anything to charge them with.

Burress could still strike some kind of plea bargain himself, but according to NYC chief assistant district attorney Mark Dwyer this is unlikely, as the best bargain Burress would get is a year or 18 months off the charge he’s already been indicted for, still sidelining him for the next two NFL seasons. Burress is unlikely to bargain for a gift he doesn’t really want.

Both Plaxico Burress and Antonio Pierce testified before the grand jury last week. Only Antonio Pierce succeeded at making his case, as his lengthy two day court appearance may have been the final straw that cleared him of any charges. Some writers have indicated that if Antonio Pierce had not testified in front of the panel, he would have been indicted along with Plax.

Antonio Pierce, for his part, is sweating this one out at Giants training camp in Albany. Plaxico Burress’ decision to testify, unlike Pierce, may have hurt his case, and kept him from the chance of earning an acquittal if he goes to trial. Plaxico Burress is now locked into a specific story and timeline of events which takes away his defense attorney’s ability to plead his case. Testifying before the grand jury? Pierce, win — Burress, lose.