Darren Sharper rape case co-defendants seek separate trials

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Two men charged in connection with sexual assaults involving former NFL star Darren Sharper in Louisiana asked a federal judge Tuesday for separate trials in a widely watched case that saw Sharper fall from football hero to imprisoned rapist.

Erik Nunez and former St. Bernard Parish sheriff’s deputy Brandon Licciardi are the remaining defendants in state and federal cases in which Sharper has pleaded guilty.

Nunez has pleaded not guilty to a charge that he obstructed the federal case by destroying a cellphone that contained evidence – lurid pictures of women, according to testimony. Licciardi is accused of distributing drugs to women with the intent to rape them, as well as witness tampering and withholding information. He, too, has pleaded not guilty.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael McMahon told U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo that the two men were part of an illegal conspiracy and that there is no reason to separate the cases.

Nunez attorney Sara Johnson, noting that her client is named in only one count of the federal indictment, said the cases should be separated because of the ”markedly different degree of culpability between the two defendants.”

Ralph Capitelli, an attorney for Licciardi, added that the two will likely put on ”antagonistic” defenses and that separate trials are warranted.

Milazzo did not immediately rule.

Earlier Tuesday, the judge rejected a prosecution motion to disqualify Johnson as Nunez’s lawyer.

Court filings say Sharper once made a $10,000 payment to Johnson to represent Nunez. Prosecutors said that posed a conflict because Sharper is now cooperating in the case against Nunez.

However, Nunez said in court he doesn’t want to change lawyers, and Milazzo said she saw no reason to disqualify Johnson.

Accusations that Sharper drugged and raped women ultimately led to guilty or no-contest pleas in state and federal courts in Louisiana, Arizona, California and Nevada.

Although he could spend as much as 20 years in prison, he is expected to serve about nine years under a multi-jurisdiction plea agreement announced earlier this year. However, he has not yet been formally sentenced in Louisiana, Nevada or California.

Louisiana is the only state where other people are charged in the case. His plea agreement calls for him to help with investigations of the two co-defendants. He also faces a long list of requirements he will have to meet after his release, including registering as a sex offender.

Sharper, who retired after the 2010 season, was selected All-Pro six times and chosen for the Pro Bowl five times during a career that included stints with the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings. He played in two Super Bowls, one with the Packers as a rookie and the 2010 Saints victory game.