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Clarett agrees to plea deal, will serve 3½ years

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- When the day comes that Maurice Clarett
can be released from prison 3½ years from now, the former Ohio
State football star's life story will hardly have been told in
full.

If his lockup ends on the earliest possible date, Clarett, who
struck an unexpected plea deal Monday for robbery and concealed
weapons charges, will be all of 26 years old. His 8-week-old
daughter, who was present for his sentencing, will not yet have
turned 4.

"It's in a range that will allow him to get his life back
together after his release," Prosecutor Ron O'Brien said.

Judge David Fais announced the agreement on the day Clarett's
aggravated robbery trial was to begin. He was sentenced to 7½ years
with release possible after 3½ years, and five years of probation.

A bearded Clarett, wearing handcuffs and jail-issue clothing,
remained expressionless throughout Monday's hearing.

"I'd like to apologize for my behavior, and I accept the time
that was given to me," Clarett said when asked if he wished to
address the court.

After the judge accepted the deal, Clarett looked over at his
mother in the first row of the gallery. She was sobbing and holding
his infant daughter while sitting next to his girlfriend.

Minutes later, one of his attorneys summed up Clarett's saga --
from the time he was one of college football's brightest stars to
the day he began life as an inmate.

"He was up here," Michael Hoague said, raising his arm up to
eye level. "He got down here," he said, lowering his arm to his
waist. "And he's going to be back up here again."

Clarett's father, Myke, issued a statement that said he watched
the last year of his son's life in anguish.

"Somewhere along the way, that positive energy and focus turned
into something else. Something that only Maurice can verbalize and
he has chosen not to do so at this time," he said.

The 22-year-old Clarett has almost nowhere to go but up after
Monday's appearance in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, where
jury selection was set to begin in a case in which he was accused
of holding up two people outside a bar.

The concealed-weapon charge was from Clarett's Aug. 9 arrest
after a highway chase with police, who found four loaded guns in
Clarett's sport utility vehicle. They stopped him by spiking his
tires, then used pepper spray to subdue and handcuff Clarett, who
was wearing a bulletproof vest.

Had Clarett been convicted on all charges, he would have faced
three to 34 years in prison. Assistant Prosecutor Tim Mitchell said
he expects Clarett will serve just over four years, with his last
six months spent at a community-based facility.

As a freshman tailback, Clarett led Ohio State to the 2002
national championship, scoring the winning touchdown in the second
overtime in the title game against Miami. That was the last time he
played for the Buckeyes, and his life has spiraled out of control
ever since.

He was suspended for lying to NCAA investigators before the 2003
season and dropped out of school. He lost a U.S. Supreme Court case
challenging the NFL's requirement that players wait three years
after high school before turning pro. The Denver Broncos made
Clarett a surprise third-round pick in the NFL's 2005 draft, only
to cut him during the preseason.

"It's really a shame that someone puts themselves in that
position," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said Monday. "I'm just
hoping when he does get out that he's learned his lesson and comes
back with a mind-set that he's going to be productive [in
society]."

Authorities said Clarett flashed a gun and robbed two people of
a cell phone early Jan. 1. He turned himself in around the time
that many of his former Buckeyes teammates were putting the
finishing touches on a Fiesta Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

Clarett had been drinking heavily on New Year's Eve, Hoague
said. But the attorney did not explain why Clarett had a gun in his
waistband.

"Obviously, that was a bad decision," Hoague said.

Clarett's attorneys said the guns police found in the SUV
belonged to Clarett and came from his mother's house. They said he
had the guns because he was trying to give them to acquaintances to
hold for him, but the attorneys did not elaborate.

A victims' assistant from the prosecutor's office read a
statement from the robbery victims, who said the ordeal has been
hard on all aspects of their lives.

"Mr. Clarett, we hope you will use this opportunity to help
someone along the way," the statement said.

His attorneys said they hoped Clarett's hopes of playing pro
football are not dashed.

"There are institutions in Ohio that actually have
opportunities to work out and train for football and other
athletics," Hoague said. "We're hoping he can do that, and stay
in shape and be focused on that."