LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former NFL star Darren Sharper removed all doubt Monday that he drugged and raped women, taking the first of several legal steps to own up to sex assaults in four states that will send him to federal prison for about nine years.
In two separate cases, Sharper pleaded guilty to sexual assault in Arizona and no contest in California to raping two women he knocked out with a potent sedative mixed with booze.
Sharper, 39, wearing a striped, light blue suit, said it was in his best interest to enter the pleas.
The hearings came as Los Angeles prosecutors were prepared to present evidence of Sharper's fall from grace as a former all-pro safety who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. His clean reputation took a hit when women began telling police in several cities similar stories of blacking out while drinking with him and waking up groggy to find they had been sexually abused.
Defense lawyers had previously said the sexual intercourse was consensual. One lawyer had said Sharper didn't mix the sleepy shots of booze.
But Sharper wielded no defense in court Monday.
By not contesting the California charges, he admitted he raped two women he drugged after meeting them at a West Hollywood bar, the first in October 2013 and the second in January 2014. The pleas have the same effect as a conviction.
Both encounters were eerily similar.
In the October instance, Sharper invited a woman and her friend that he met at Bootsy Bellows nightclub to go to a party. On the way, he said he needed to get something at his Century City hotel and invited them upstairs.
He insisted they drink a shot of alcohol and they both blacked out. One woman awoke the next morning with Sharper on top of her having sex. Her friend woke up in an adjoining room and interrupted the act and both women left.
The women were not in court, but prosecutors said they had agreed to the plea deal.
Under the unusual deal negotiated by Shaper's lawyers and state and federal prosecutors, Sharper will serve his sentences concurrently in a federal prison, though the full term has not yet been announced.
He was immediately sentenced to nine years in the Arizona case and will face a 20 years in the California case when sentenced July 15. However, because the crimes he committed in California require that he only serve half the prison term — and with credit for the 13 months he's spent in jail — he'll spend about nine more years behind bars, lawyers said.
He had faced up to 33 years in prison if convicted of all counts against him in California, though he would probably have served half of that time.
Jeffery Rubenstein, a former Los Angeles prosecutor, said the sentence is no slap on the wrist for Sharper, but does spare him much longer, harder time, particularly if served in state prisons that are notoriously rougher than federal penitentiaries.
"This could have gotten really ugly and very likely this guy would have never seen the light of day," Rubenstein said.
From the prosecution standpoint, they were able to spare the victims of reliving the event through testimony and having their credibility questioned by a seasoned team of defense lawyers, Rubenstein said.
Hearings will follow in Las Vegas on Tuesday and in New Orleans in the next month. In each state, he's accused of drugging and sexually assaulting women when they were unconscious or otherwise unable to resist or consent.
Sharper's arrest came a few years after his 14-year NFL career ended in 2011, but reverberated as the league was dealing with its off-field problems with players accused of crimes ranging from beating a spouse to murder. He was working as an analyst for the NFL network at the time.
Sharper, who has been jailed since February 2014 in LA, appeared in a Phoenix courtroom by video-conferencing and admitted he sexually assaulted one woman and tried to attack another in suburban Phoenix in 2013. Police said he drugged three women and sexually assaulted two of them at a Tempe apartment in November 2013.
Prosecutor Yigael Cohen on Monday cited a letter in which one of the victims says she suffered emotional harm as a result of the attack and that she didn't have the ability to resist.
A search of the Tempe apartment turned up a shot glass with a white residue that turned out to be the sedative zolpidem, and California investigators discovered that Sharper had a prescription for the drug.
In the California case, he pleaded no contest to four counts of furnishing zolpidem, a controlled substance sold under the brand name Ambien.
Sharper was told he couldn't later change his mind and withdraw the California plea and that it would stand even if deals in other states fall through.
"To use the vernacular, do you understand that this is a final answer?" Judge Michael Pastor said.
"Yes, sir," Sharper replied.
Sharper is expected to plead guilty Tuesday to one felony charge of attempted sexual assault in Nevada, with the expectation that he will face up to eight years in prison, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson told The Associated Press.