Football

Former Syracuse football player Naesean Howard receives 5-year plea offer

Courtesy of the Syracuse Police Department

Naesean Howard, 21, was indicted in May on first-degree assault charges, as well as charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Syracuse City Court Judge Robert L. Bauer on Tuesday said he will honor a five-year plea deal set by former Judge Anthony Aloi, giving former Syracuse football player Naesean Howard and his attorney Ralph Cognetti one week to accept the offer or proceed with trial.

The offer is a five-year sentence and a five-year post-release supervision. Cognetti will speak with Howard, 21, and his family regarding a potential disposition that, if accepted, would end the case before the scheduled trial on Feb. 21.

“If we go to trial and the jury doesn’t agree with my proposition, then my client faces the possibility of getting a lot more time than five years,” Cognetti said, referring to the maximum sentence of 25 years. “I’ve got to make a decision.”

At Howard’s last pre-trial hearing on Dec. 16, Cognetti said Howard would undergo a series of medical tests to discover if he had suffered from a chronic traumatic encephalopathy (C.T.E.), the degenerative brain disease linked to repeated hits to the head. If there’s a link found between Howard’s concussion history, then the intent element of his alleged crime could be negated. In that case, “then we’ve got a tool to use either at trial or in negotiations that will perhaps get a lesser charge,” Cognetti said in December.

Howard has been medically evaluated and the results of the tests will be sent to a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania for review. Cognetti said last month that he doesn’t know many concussions Howard may have suffered, but that, “it’s a hell of a lot more than one.”

Cognetti also said he doesn’t know exactly when he will receive the test results, which may delay the trial date. He added on Tuesday: “We’ve got a defense that’s being formed — the fact that this man has suffered quite seriously from successive concussions. We think there’s a chance that injury may have affected his ability to intentionally perform this assaultive behavior.”

Howard appeared at Syracuse City Court before Bauer, who replaced Aloi. A former Syracuse defensive back, Howard was dismissed from the football team after his freshman season in 2014. He was charged with first-degree assault after allegedly stabbing Chauncey Scissum and Corey Winfield at a South Campus party in April 2016. Winfield left the program in November.

Howard was indicted in May on first-degree assault charges, as well as charges of second-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon. The first-degree assault charge alleges Howard intended to cause “serious physical injury” and is punishable of up to 25 years in prison. Howard is in custody and bail will not be set.

The West Genesee High School graduate was initially charged with two counts of second-degree assault.

Howard is due back in court for another hearing on Jan. 24.

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