COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – When the day comes that Maurice Clarett can be released from prison three-and-a-half years from now, the former Ohio State football star’s life story will hardly have been told in full.
If his lockup ends on the earliest possible date, Clarett, who struck an unexpected plea deal Monday for robbery and concealed weapons charges, will be all of 26 years old. His 8-week-old daughter, who was present for his sentencing, will not yet have turned four.
“It’s in a range that will allow him to get his life back together after his release,” Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said.
Judge David Fais announced the agreement on the day Clarett’s aggravated robbery trial was to begin. He was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years, with release possible after three-and-a-half years, and five years of probation.
A bearded Clarett, wearing handcuffs and jail-issue clothing, remained expressionless throughout Monday’s hearing.
“I’d like to apologize for my behavior, and I accept the time that was given to me,” Clarett said when asked if he wished to address the court.
After the judge accepted the deal, Clarett looked over at his mother in the first row of the gallery. She was sobbing and holding his infant daughter while sitting next to his girlfriend.
Minutes later, one of his attorneys summed up Clarett’s saga – from the time he was one of college football’s brightest stars to the day he began life as an inmate.
“He was up here,” Michael Hoague said, raising his arm up to eye level. “He got down here,” he said, lowering his arm to his waist. “And he’s going to be back up here again.”
The 22-year-old Clarett has almost nowhere to go but up after Monday’s appearance in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where jury selection was set to begin in a case in which he was accused of holding up two people outside a bar.
The concealed-weapon charge was from Clarett’s Aug. 9 arrest after a highway chase with police, who found four loaded guns in Clarett’s sport utility vehicle. They stopped him by spiking his tires, then used pepper spray to subdue and handcuff Clarett, who was wearing a bulletproof vest.
Had Clarett been convicted on all charges, he would have faced three to 34 years in prison. Assistant Prosecutor Tim Mitchell said he expects Clarett will serve just over four years, with his last six months spent at a community-based facility.
As a freshman tailback, Clarett led Ohio State to the 2002 national championship, scoring the winning touchdown in the second overtime in the title game against Miami. That was the last time he played for the Buckeyes, and his life has spiraled out of control ever since.
He was suspended for lying to NCAA investigators before the 2003 season and dropped out of school. He lost a U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the NFL’s requirement that players wait three years after high school before turning pro. The Denver Broncos made Clarett a surprise third-round pick in the NFL’s 2005 draft, only to cut him during the preseason.
“It’s really a shame that someone puts themselves in that position,” Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. “I’m just hoping when he does get out that he’s learned his lesson and comes back with a mind-set that he’s going to be productive (in society).”
Authorities said Clarett flashed a gun and robbed two people of a cell phone early Jan. 1. He turned himself in around the time that many of his former Buckeyes teammates were putting the finishing touches on a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.
Clarett had been drinking heavily on New Year’s Eve, Hoague said. But the attorney did not explain why Clarett had a gun in his waistband.
“Obviously, that was a bad decision,” Hoague said.
Clarett’s attorneys said the guns police found in the SUV belonged to Clarett and came from his mother’s house. They said he had the guns because he was trying to give them to acquaintances to hold for him, but the attorneys did not elaborate.
A victims’ assistant from the prosecutor’s office read a statement from the robbery victims, who said the ordeal has been hard on all aspects of their lives.
“Mr. Clarett, we hope you will use this opportunity to help someone along the way,” the statement said.
His attorneys said they hoped Clarett’s hopes of playing pro football are not dashed.
“There are institutions in Ohio that actually have opportunities to work out and train for football and other athletics,” Hoague said. “We’re hoping he can do that, and stay in shape and be focused on that.”