Though Adrian McPherson’s plea agreement signaled a potential end to his legal troubles, it really was more about new beginnings for all parties involved.
For McPherson, the deal not only means he will avoid jail time, but that he also has a chance of resurrecting his playing career.
For the prosecutors and defense attorneys, it offers a chance to move on to other cases, likely without quite so much public scrutiny.
And for Florida State University, it symbolizes the end of perhaps the ugliest chapter in the athletic program’s history.
McPherson, who faced more than 20 years in prison in separate stolen-check, worthless-check and gambling cases, was clearly the biggest winner in Wednesday’s plea agreement. He pleaded no contest to all charges with the understanding that his record would be cleared if he successfully completes the terms of his probation.
Circuit Judge James C. Hankinson sentenced McPherson to 90 days in the county work camp, up to 30 months probation and 25 to 50 hours of community service. If McPherson complies with his probation for 18 months and pays restitution and fees of more than $4,000, his probation could end a year early.
“I'm just relieved it's all over,” McPherson said outside the courtroom. “Ready to get back in school and just move on with my life. … I believe everything happens for a reason. I want to play badly, but if I can't, there's something else that I'll do. Hopefully, I'll get a chance, and I'm looking forward to it.”
McPherson said he has talked to some of his former teammates in recent months and told them “to learn from my mistakes.”
Hoping for a second chance
Grady Irvin, McPherson's lead attorney, said he already has spoken with more than one college about his client's chances of returning to football. Though Irvin wouldn't name those schools, one of his colleagues implied that they could be located in central Florida.
“I think he wants to play close to home -- you can get an idea of some of the schools that may be of some interest,” defense attorney Chuck Hobbs said, noting that McPherson lives in Bradenton. “I think he wants to play in front of [his] hometown and be close to mom and dad.”
Because McPherson has been linked to gambling, and betting on Florida State football games in particular, the NCAA will likely have to rule on his eligibility before any school can place him on scholarship.
In a somewhat surprising development, assistant state attorney Paul Driver said officials from the NCAA contacted him recently and asked that the court require McPherson to perform community service with the NCAA as part of the plea. Driver complied with the request, and McPherson can either perform 25 hours with the NCAA or 50 hours with the general public.
“It's my understanding that the 25 hours of community service would consist of the NCAA flying Adrian around the country to different schools to have him talk to people at various campuses about how he found himself involved in this situation,” Irvin said.
Though they were bothered that the NCAA interfered with the legal process, Irvin and Hobbs said their client would consider working with the NCAA.
“He isn't admitting guilt, but at the same time he is making an admission that he recognizes some culpability in this thing,” Hobbs said. “And I do think he is willing to do -- within reason -- anything the NCAA wants him to do to restore his eligibility. He's truly sorry about a lot of things. And clearly he understands that the key to him being able to go play in the NFL is him having some eligibility to play [in the NCAA].”
The NCAA issued a statement Wednesday affirming that it does not comment on student-eligibility issues.
Hung jury spurred plea agreement
Attorneys for the state and defense said McPherson’s gambling trial, which ended last month with a hung jury, was the impetus for the plea agreement. Not surprisingly, each side said it was the other that became more eager to negotiate after the jury came back one vote short of a unanimous guilty verdict.
“It really got heightened after the trial,” Hobbs said. “Everybody was exhausted – none of us wanted to do that gambling case again.”
Though the Tallahassee Democrat reported late last week that McPherson’s attorneys had already agreed to a plea agreement, Irvin said the deal wasn’t finalized until Tuesday afternoon.
Hobbs said the primary sticking point was the defense’s request that the judge withhold adjudication on the gambling charge. After wrangling over that issue for days, the defense attorneys said, State Attorney Willie Meggs agreed to that stipulation – which could potentially help McPherson’s case with the NCAA.
Perhaps no one was more relieved about the agreement than McPherson’s parents, Floyd and Henrietta, who were thrust into the public spotlight when their son was dismissed from the FSU football team in November.
“We’re happy it’s all over with,” Floyd McPherson said. “He needs to get back in school. He’s missed a long period of time from school, and we just want him to get back and move on with his life.”
Could mean closure for FSU
It is to be determined how long it will take for Florida State’s reputation to be restored. During the course of six months, the McPherson saga spawned allegations of widespread gambling in the athletic department, illegal booster payments and an internal cover-up by the administration.
None of those charges have been substantiated, but that may not mean anything in the court of public opinion.
“A concern to at least one of the schools was whether or not Adrian was involved in any booster activity – that being any payments by booster or anything of that nature,” Irvin said. “Adrian McPherson has not been involved in any booster activity – none, zero, none.”
Irvin added that he doesn’t plan on letting McPherson get used by the NCAA in an effort to bring down Florida State.
“He is not a snitch, he’s not anybody’s confidential informant,” Irvin said. “And who’s to say that he knows anything anyway?”
Though it was McPherson’s defense team that originally cast the allegations of illegal booster activity, Hobbs said he and Irvin never planned to put “FSU on trial,” as many media reports indicated.
“I think a lot of people were concerned that going to trial … there were going to be a bunch of revelations about improprieties within the program,” Hobbs said. “It was never a theory of our case – or our intention – to drag FSU through the mud. I’m not saying the investigation they did was the best investigation, but we always felt they would not have risked probation and sanctions for a backup quarterback.
“[Athletic director Dave] Hart’s the guy who got rid of Randy Moss – one of the most talented athletes ever – for smoking a joint. They’ve got a good track record of getting rid of guys for certain things. I don’t believe they would have shown favoritism for a backup quarterback when you’ve had stars like [Laveranues] Coles and Moss get the book.”
More deals from state
Other apparent winners in the plea agreement are two of McPherson’s former friends who also faced charges as a result of the gambling probe.
Driver said that Melvin Capers, a friend of McPherson's who also was charged in the check-theft case, will not face prosecution because he cooperated with the investigation. Driver said he also expects to reach a deal with Andrew Inderhees, a former FSU student manager who is accused of taking bets from McPherson.
Inderhees testified for the prosecution in McPherson's gambling trial, and he is cooperating with the state's pending case against accused campus bookie Derek Delach. The state alleges that McPherson was one of Delach’s clients.