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Grand jury reduces Jefferson charge, clears Johns

- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 28, 2011

BATON ROUGE, LA. (AP) - A grand jury reduced charges against Jordan Jefferson to a misdemeanor for his involvement in a bar fight and the LSU quarterback's suspension from the top-ranked Tigers was lifted soon after Wednesday night.

Jefferson, who testified before the grand jury, is now charged with simple battery and faces maximum penalties, if convicted, of up to six months in jail and fines up to $500.

His attorney, Lewis Unglesby, said his client "will never be convicted" if the case goes to trial.

"There's no evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to even think about it," Unglesby said. "The grand jury's standard is much lower than a reasonable doubt, so I guess they thought they met that standard by virtue of an accusation. That's a sad thing."

Jefferson and reserve linebacker Josh Johns were initially booked with felony second-degree battery in the Aug. 19 fight. The grand jury decided Wednesday there was not enough evidence to bring any charges against Johns. Four men sought treatment at hospitals after the brawl.

LSU coach Les Miles said both players would be welcomed back at practice Thursday, but that he was unsure if Jefferson would be ready to play Saturday against Kentucky.

Miles stressed that Jarrett Lee, who has started in LSU's first four games _ all double-digit victories _ will remain the starter for the foreseeable future. However, the coach added that he envisions Jefferson seeing action in most of the remaining games because of his ability to scramble and run the option.

"Just like a year ago when Lee played in every game, there would be that opportunity that Jordan Jefferson would play in every game as well," Miles said. "We're better at quarterback (with Jefferson back on the roster) than we've ever been and I think that's an advantage to us as we go forward throughout the rest of the schedule."

Lee has performed well in Jefferson's absence, completing 64 percent of his passes (56 of 87) for 624 yards and six touchdowns. He has thrown just one interception, and LSU is scoring 38.8 points per game.

Miles said Jefferson would become the backup, with junior college quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who had been Lee's backup during Jefferson's suspension, moving to the third spot.

LSU Vice Chancellor and Athletic Director Joe Alleva said he endorsed the players' reinstatement.

"We certainly don't condone participation in the incident, but the legal system has determined that their actions did not rise to the level originally charged, and their punishment to date related to football has already been considerable," Alleva said in a statement.

Jefferson and Johns had been suspended from the team since they turned themselves in Aug. 26 and were freed on bond.

Johns' lawyer, Thomas Damico, said his client appeared before the grand jury for an hour Wednesday morning. Johns always maintained he was innocent and had been mistaken for someone else, Damico said.

First assistant district attorney Prem Burns said the grand jury, which met for a full day Wednesday and another day a week earlier, saw video evidence taken from surveillance cameras and cell phones, and heard testimony from an undisclosed number of witnesses.

Some of those witnesses were on the football team, including defensive end Lavar Edwards, who came to the Wednesday's hearing.

"We feel the indictment that was returned in that case was totally in accordance with what was presented," Burns said.

She said District Attorney Hiller Moore has not decided precisely what penalty will be pursued.

"That's not something that we are seeking at this time, to say that we want jail or do not want jail," Burns said. "What we want to do is go through and have a fair presentation of trial and allow the judge to make a fair sentencing at that time."

Attorneys did not discuss details of the grand jury proceedings, which by law must remain confidential.

One of the men who sought treatment after the fight, Andrew Lowery, has accused Jefferson and Johns of beating and kicking him, adding that Jefferson kicked him in the face.

Police responded to the allegations by searching Jefferson and Johns' homes, taking shoes from both, and performing tests for DNA that were inconclusive.

Unglesby decried the police's handling of the matter, which the lawyer said has already caused Jefferson to miss four games.

"We didn't have to go through all of this unnecessary delay," Unglesby said. "You're not supposed to give them bad treatment because of celebrity, and I do think that's what happened."

Jefferson, who'll be a senior, has started since the end of his freshman season in 2008, going 20-7. He led LSU to an 11-2 record, including a 41-24 win over Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl in which he was an efficient 10 of 19 for 158 yards and three touchdowns.

Before the fight, Miles had said repeatedly that Jefferson was the projected starter in 2011, a year when the Tigers have increasingly realistic national title aspirations.

Miles values Jefferson's versatility. Jefferson's 450 yards rushing last season narrowly eclipsed Nelson Stokely's previous record for an LSU quarterback of 449 yards in 1969. Jefferson's seven touchdowns rushing tied a school record.

Yet Miles said he did not believe it was unfair for Jefferson to lose his starting job, given that he was at a bar, after curfew, and, regardless of whether he's convicted, got close enough to bar brawl to be implicated and arrested.

"He put himself in a bar at the whim and wish of those people that he's in the bar with," Miles said. "When you walk into a place and you're a very identifiable, noteworthy guy, frankly, you need to be very careful where you go and whom you hang out with."

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