Suspended ULL players could have felony arrest charges dropped

LAFAYETTE, La. -- More than a dozen Louisiana-Lafayette football players suspended from the team after felony theft arrests in late April could have the charges dropped by completing a pre-trial diversion program.

District attorney Keith Stutes in Lafayette said the players implicated in the dorm-room theft of items worth about $2,400 qualified for the diversion program because none of them have a significant prior record.

"The fact that they're football players is not a factor," Stutes told The Associated Press by phone Friday evening, saying that he would have favored pre-trial diversion for anyone with a similar prior record booked with similar charges.

"Without significant prior criminal involvement, I believe in the opportunity for redemption and to not have scars on their records for the rest of their lives," Stutes said.

The diversion program entails classes, drug screening, six months' probation and possibly community service.

The 13 players suspended are tight end Matthew Barnes, defensive ends Joe Dillon and Jarvis Jeffries, offensive linemen Robert Hunt and D'Aquin Withrow, linebacker Terik Miller, defensive backs Denarius Howard, Damar'ren Mitchell, Simeon Thomas and Levarious Varnado, defensive tackle LaDarrius Kidd and running backs Trey Ragas and Jordan Wright.

"We are relieved that this issue is nearing closure," said Ragin Cajuns coach Mark Hudspeth, whose team has played in five bowl games in six seasons. "These young men have learned and will continue to learn from this tremendous life lesson. We will continue to be respectful of the legal process as it runs its course."

The Ragin' Cajuns are coming off a season that included a bid to the New Orleans Bowl, in which ULL lost to Southern Miss.

The players' participation in pre-trial diversion was first reported by The Dailey Advertiser of Lafayette.

Police have said the players cooperated with their investigation.

Stutes says the 13 players initially booked with felonies are now formally charged with one count of misdemeanor criminal mischief, a charge that will be dropped after formal completion of the diversion program. Stutes says two other players booked with only misdemeanors in the case also are eligible for the program and are expected to enroll within the next week.