Former Husker Alfonzo Dennard sentenced to probation, 30 days in jail

New England Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, left, is accompanied by his attorney, Terry Dougherty, on Thursday. Dennard received two years probation, a 30-day jail sentence and 100 hours of community service.

LINCOLN — Former Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard on Thursday received a 30-day jail sentence, two years probation and 100 hours of “law-enforcement related” community service for his felony assault conviction.

But the jail time — which Dennard had been lobbying to avoid after he was found guilty in February of punching a Lincoln police officer and resisting arrest — won’t interfere with his second NFL season with the New England Patriots.

Lancaster County Court Judge Stephanie Stacy set Dennard’s term to start March 1, 2014 — arguably the quietest month on the NFL calendar. Stacy also said she’d consider a motion to suspend or remove the sentence next year if Dennard complies with the terms of his probation.

That’s good news for the Patriots, who last year picked Dennard in the seventh round of the NFL draft and had inserted him as a starter by season’s end. Dennard finished with 35 tackles and three interceptions. Patriots coach Bill Belichick wrote a letter to Stacy in support of Dennard.

Wearing a red “N” letter jacket to the courtroom, Dennard apologized to family, friends, coaches, supporters and Nebraska fans in a brief pre-sentencing statement. Though he’s maintained he did not hit Lincoln officer Ben Kopsa in the jaw, he apologized for the April 21, 2012, events that led to his charges, trial and conviction.

“That wasn’t me at all,” said Dennard of his behavior that night. He guaranteed that if he received probation he’d “never do anything wrong.” After the hearing, Dennard had no comment. NU coach Bo Pelini, who entered the courtroom with Dennard and wrote a letter in support of his former player, left immediately after the hearing ended.

“I’m glad he got probation,” said Terry Dougherty, Dennard’s lawyer. “That’s the appropriate sentence. I’m disappointed he got any jail time. If this isn’t a probation case, I don’t know how you can ever have one.”

It’s the same argument that Dougherty — who’s represented a number of Husker athletes during and after their NU careers — made during his pre-sentencing comments. He brought up reference letters from Belichick, Pelini and University of Nebraska Regent Tim Clare as examples of Dennard’s character. He pointed to Dennard’s lack of criminal history. He said Dennard lost at least “a half-million” in NFL salary when his draft stock dropped after the arrest. A jail sentence, Dougherty said, could impact Dennard’s ability play in the NFL at all.

“If the court were to send him to jail, we may very well be taking away the opportunity for all time,” Dougherty said.

Stacy said that failing to add a jail term to Dennard’s sentence “would depreciate the seriousness of the crime and promote disrespect for the law.” With three days served in jail already, Dennard might, at most, spend “a couple weeks to 20 days” in jail, Dougherty said.

Dougherty said he’d been told by “people that I would expect would know” that Dennard won’t receive a penalty from the Patriots or the NFL. Dennard’s crime was committed before he was a member of any NFL team.

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