James Darling called his lawyer Sunday and told him to work for a last-minute settlement with Whitman County prosecutors because he didn’t want to risk a potentially lucrative pro football contract on a trial that seemed likely to result in a more severe sentence, Darling said Tuesday.
“Things were out of my control - I just wanted to get this out of the way and move on,” Darling, a former Washington State University star and recent Philadelphia Eagles draft choice, said from his Whitman County Jail cell only hours after securing a relatively lenient punishment by entering an Alford plea to the reduced charges of second-degree felony burglary and fourth-degree misdemeanor assault.
Darling will remain in jail through Thursday and will be allowed to serve the remaining 32 days of his sentence starting Jan. 30 of next year - after the NFL season. With credit for good behavior, Darling could serve as few as 21 days, said his attorney, Brian Butler of Spokane.
In entering the Alford plea before Judge Richard Miller in Whitman County Superior Court, Darling avoided a jury trial on more serious charges, including one count of first-degree felony burglary that often carries a 20-month jail term.
Deputy prosecutor Toby Krauel said the agreement does not constitute special treatment, even if it allowed Darling, a standout linebacker with three prior convictions, to begin his pro football career almost as if nothing had happened.
“He got convicted of a Class B felony, he’s headed to jail, he’s got supervision - which is going to be strict - through the community corrections officers as well as the NFL,” Krauel said. “I don’t think you can call that being treated well.”
By entering the Alford plea, Darling did not admit guilt in the case, which stemmed from a May 6 fraternity-party dispute. Instead, he simply acknowledged that prosecutors may have had enough evidence to convict, and he agreed to pay the consequences.
Less than two months ago, Darling pleaded not guilty to all charges and said he was eager to tell his side of the story to a jury. Those feelings changed as the trial approached, Butler said, and an agreement was reached Monday afternoon.
“Every time you try a case there’s some risk,” Butler said, “and he just wanted to make sure he could pursue his dream.
“He was real concerned about being able to take care of his family (financially).”
Based on Darling’s history of legal scrapes - starting with a reckless driving conviction two years ago and including a guilty plea last summer to misdemeanor theft in an almost comical incident in which Darling removed a $5,000 gumball machine from a restaurant lobby - the Kettle Falls product had reason to fear a career-threatening sentence.
Instead, Darling must serve only the 35-day term, in addition to adhering to several other stipulations. According to the agreement, Darling must also:
Serve 40 hours community service (to be determined).
Undergo drug, alcohol and anger-management evaluations and, if necessary, appropriate counseling.
Pay $619.02 in court costs and $150 in restitution for a telephone that was broken during the dispute.
Remain on probation for one year.
Not contact Brian Boyden or Jon Gurnsey, who were allegedly assaulted by Darling during the incident (even though Darling, as part of the agreement, was prosecuted for assaulting Gurnsey only).
Not consume alcohol for one year.
Darling declined to discuss the case at length, referring inquiries to Butler. According to Butler, Darling’s legal troubles in the last two years are relatively insignificant.
“It’s a series of the most (bogus) things I’ve ever seen in my life - I’ve done all of them,” Butler said. “Talk about a kid, I mean, you and I, if we ever had the public scrutiny, the bad luck or whatever it is …”
Whatever it is, Darling has learned from it, Butler added.
“He’s learned his lessons very hard and every problem he’s ever had, he’s never done it again,” Butler said. “He just wants to be responsible.”
Upon his release later this week, Darling is free to attend the Eagles’ rookie camp, which begins July 16. He has yet to sign a contract.
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