As part of a plea agreement, former Ram cornerback Darryl Henley faces a sentence of 41 years three months in prison after admitting in federal court in Los Angeles on Wednesday that he conspired to murder a federal judge and a prosecution witness and that he bribed a prison guard to smuggle a cellular telephone into his cell.
A subdued Henley, 29, was repeatedly asked by U.S. District Judge James M. Ideman if he fully understood the length of time he would be guaranteed of serving in prison if he signed the plea agreement.
"That's 495 months in prison, do you understand that?" Ideman asked the former football star. "That is something like 42 years."
Henley calmly replied: "Yes, sir."
Watching from the front row of the courtroom was Henley's 26-year-old brother, Eric, who followed his brother at the podium and entered a guilty plea to charges that he participated in a conspiracy to distribute 25 kilograms of cocaine. Eric Henley will probably be sentenced to seven to eight years in prison, prosecutors said. Both sentencings are scheduled for January.
The guilty pleas entered by the brothers, in negotiations for several weeks, signify a major breakthrough in a complicated three-year legal case that began as a drug trafficking trial but grew increasingly complex over time.
Darryl Henley was convicted of cocaine trafficking along with four co-defendants in 1995. While he was awaiting sentencing in the downtown Los Angeles jail, authorities learned that Henley had ordered the killing of U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor, who presided over his trial, and of Tracy Donaho, a former Ram cheerleader who testified against him.
Henley used a cellular phone smuggled to him by a jail guard to both orchestrate drug deals and hire a killer, prosecutors said. In both cases, the deals were arranged with undercover federal agents posing as criminals. The prosecution said federal agents had tape-recorded Henley discussing the heroin deal with an undercover agent as a way to finance the pair of $100,000 contract hits.
In June, Henley pleaded not guilty to the new 13-count indictment alleging the murder plots and drug sales.
Under the terms of Wednesday's agreement, Henley pleaded guilty to three of the charges: two counts of conspiracy to commit murder and a single count of bribing a jail guard. The remaining 10 counts will be dropped, said prosecutor Assistant U.S. Atty. Marc S. Harris.
Harris refused to say what issues led to the plea agreement but U.S. Attorney Nora Manella indicated in a statement that the government's case against the former football player was strong.
"In his own recorded words, Darryl Henley revealed himself to be both a narcotics trafficker and a would-be murderer," Manella stated.
Judge Ideman said he fully intends to sentence him to the length of time called for in the plea agreement. The judge made a point of noting that Henley would be serving the maximum sentence the court could impose for the attempt on Judge Taylor's life.
"Sometimes people get the wrong idea when they hear plea agreement, that something is being given away," Ideman said. "It is the maximum and that should be noted."