Morris eyes probation plea deal Ravens back to serve up to 4 months in jail under counsel's plan

'Approval is not a given'

Modell waits for trial on Tuesday to play out

January 08, 1998|By Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht | Mike Preston and Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

The attorney for Bam Morris said yesterday that he is prepared to offer a plea bargain as early as Monday morning before a Texas district court judge that could include as much as a four-month jail term for the Ravens running back.

Morris' trial is scheduled for Tuesday in Rockwall County, Texas, where he has been charged with violating the terms of his 1996 probation on a marijuana conviction.

In addition to charges that Morris missed seven meetings with his probation officers, several in Maryland, and that he consumed alcohol, the recent assault charges filed by Dallas resident April Dawn Brittain stemming from an incident on Nov. 16 at a birthday party in Woodlawn, will be included in the trial.

Morris' case will be heard by District Court Judge Sue Pirtle. According to Keith Wheeler, Morris' attorney, meetings with district attorney Ray Sumrow about a plea bargaining arrangement began earlier this week.

"It would not surprise me to reach a deal which would include county jail time, but no penitentiary time," Wheeler said. "Our conversations have been in the three to four months range. Based on the conversations I've had with our district attorney to this point, I believe we will present an agreement [on Monday]. But that's all subject to approval of the court, which is not a given.

"Our judge is very harsh in a lot of ways. I'd predict she could add additional terms to whatever we come up with [fine, probation, community service]," said Wheeler. "I'd love to tell you I've got a deal in my pocket, but I'm not that bold."

Neither Sumrow nor Morris returned phone calls yesterday.

Morris, 25, was suspended for the first four games of the 1997 season after he tested positive and violated the NFL's policy on substance and alcohol abuse. Ravens officials later confirmed the substance was beer.

"I don't think it was ever determined if [his probation] was in effect here or he didn't notify them," said Roland Knapp, director of the parole and probation unit in Maryland. "In my mind, that's never been cleared up. I'm a little surprised about the plea bargaining."

"I anticipate the state abandoning the alcohol claim," said

Wheeler. "I think the April Dawn claim has very little impact. The state has some proof problems there. It was such a swearing match, and there were 20-40 people in the room with 20-40 versions of what occurred, everything from Bam didn't touch her to Bam choked her."

Morris was the team's leading rusher this season, gaining 774 yards. He is an unrestricted free agent, but it's likely the team will add another high-profile runner even if the Ravens decide to re-sign Morris. Owner Art Modell said he would not make a decision to pursue Morris until after his trial.

Modell, vacationing with his family in Palm Springs, Calif., did not alter his original position yesterday.

"I have not been in contact with Mr. Wheeler, Sumrow or the Texas authorities, but I have heard something along those lines about the possible sentencing through plea bargaining," said Modell. "But I have no idea of what the final sentencing is going to be and I don't know what lurks in the background with this assault case.

"I don't want to get into pre-judging and we'll probably know more about where we're headed after Tuesday," he said. "Bam Morris has to go before a tough judge and he is in an environment where the [Dallas] Cowboys have run amok for so long. The organization will be watching the outcome with great interest."

Morris' original probation stems from an arrest on March 23, 1996, when he was charged with possession after police found 6 pounds of marijuana and 1 1/2 grams of cocaine in his car near his hometown of Cooper, Texas.

Four months later Morris pleaded guilty in exchange for a Texas prosecutor's recommendation that he not be imprisoned and the cocaine charges be dropped. Morris was fined $7,000 and given six years deferred adjudication or probation, meaning the drug charges could eventually be removed from his record. Morris also was sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

Texas Judge William B. Lofland reportedly told Morris at the time that he could get 10 years in prison if he violated his probation.

Pub Date: 1/08/98

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