A Lancaster County judge sentenced former Husker cornerback Alfonzo Dennard to two years of probation Thursday morning for assaulting a Lincoln police officer and resisting arrest days before he was drafted into the NFL.

The judge also gave Dennard 30 days in jail -- to start March 31, 2014 -- and 100 hours of community service that must be law enforcement-related.

District Judge Stephanie Stacy said she would consider any motions filed later to change probation terms, including a request to suspend the jail time.

High-profile supporters in Dennard's corner included Husker coach Bo Pelini, who walked into the courtroom behind him and watched from the front row. Pelini and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick both wrote letters to the judge on Dennard's behalf.

But both sides made a point to ask that his status as a professional football player not be a factor in sentencing.

"That wasn't me at all," said Dennard, now a cornerback for the NFL's Patriots.

He fought the charge at trial, but on Thursday apologized to coaches, supporters, Husker fans and his family.

In February, a Lancaster County jury found Dennard guilty of felony assault and misdemeanor resisting for a scuffle early April 21, 2012.

The jury found him not guilty of assaulting a college student, a stranger he collided with in the street just before the altercation.

At trial, the state said Dennard shouldered University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Ben Samani as bargoers spilled out onto the sidewalks near 14th and O streets. Samani said Dennard punched him in the chest, but it didn't injure him.

Lincoln Officer Ben Kopsa said he tried to arrest Dennard after he saw him punch Samani in the face -- Samani said someone else punched him -- and that Dennard threw his elbow to try to get away. Dennard said he didn't know Kopsa was an officer when he approached him from behind, but he admitted that when he turned around and saw the officer he resisted, backing away and swatting at Kopsa's hands.

Kopsa said Dennard threw a hook that hit his jaw as he tried to handcuff him. Dennard denied it.

The incident was captured in a darkly lit, 17-second video.

In court Thursday, Deputy County Attorney Matt Acton didn't ask for a specific sentence, but he said Kopsa continues to experience irritation with his jaw from the punch.

The courts have treated this type of offense very seriously in the past, he said in asking for a sentence that wouldn't depreciate the seriousness of what Dennard did or treat him differently than anyone else. 

In a letter, Acton supplied the judge with information on 12 others convicted of similar offenses.

But Dennard's attorney, Terry Dougherty, pointed to that as proof Dennard should get probation. Of the 12, 11 had extensive criminal records going in, and one had a prior theft and was being arrested for another when he assaulted an officer, he said.

Dennard had nothing more than traffic tickets before April 21 and has been under a magnifying glass since, Dougherty said.

"If this is not a case for probation for assault on an officer, I don't know what is," he said.

He said Dennard was not asking for special treatment and never has.

"What we ask the court is that he is not singled out as an athlete," Dougherty said, asking the judge to decide the case on its merits.

He noted that he had tried to get the matter handled as a misdemeanor rather than a felony, taking into account that Dennard already had paid a price -- somewhere in the neighborhood of half a million dollars -- by being drafted later than he otherwise would have.

"This court and you are the last option for Mr. Dennard to receive credit for how he's lived for all but 5 minutes of his life out on that street," he said.

Said Judge Stacy: "Your actions, your behavior that night, had serious consequences for you personally and professionally ... but there have to be legal consequences for your actions as well."

Before Dennard left the courtroom, she told him that while he had been treated the same as every other citizen inside the courtroom, that isn't true once he leaves.

"There are a lot of people who are watching you," she said.

Stacy said young athletes will model their behavior, and their attitudes about law enforcement, by watching him.

"This gives you an opportunity to positively influence a lot of people."

Outside, Dougherty said he was disappointed about the jail time, considering Dennard's spotless record, and that he didn't ask for a delay between sentencing and jail. He made it clear he'll ask that the jail time be waived if Dennard does well on probation.

It's not unusual for Lincoln judges who give jail as part of probation to have defendants report after they've been on probation for some time, with the possibility it be waived if their probation officer recommends it.

Dougherty said it was his understanding the Patriots weren't taking any disciplinary action against Dennard for what happened.

The NFL could punish Dennard under its personal conduct policy, but that is unlikely because he was not a league employee at the time of his arrest.

After the hearing, Dennard, wearing his Husker letterjacket, walked out at his attorney's side.

If the jail time isn't waived, he will have to return to Lincoln next year, when he'll likely serve 20 days with credit for good time and three days he has served.

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Reach Lori Pilger at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com or follow her on Twitter at LJSpilger.


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