LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Sept. 27, 2006) -- Chicago Bears defensive back Ricky Manning didn't want to go to trial during the season or have a jury to decide his fate.
So he pleaded no contest to a felony assault charge stemming from an altercation with a man in a Los Angeles restaurant, even though he said he didn't commit a crime.
"I didn't do what he accused me of," Manning said.
Manning and two other former UCLA football players -- Tyler Ebell and Maurice Jones-Drew -- were accused of punching and kicking a man in the face until he lost consciousness at a Denny's restaurant near the Westwood campus early in the morning on April 23. Manning, who initially pleaded not guilty, faced up to four years in prison if convicted.
Instead, he was placed on three years probation and ordered to attend a year of anger management counseling. He must also complete 100 hours of community service with a municipality or public agency or nationally recognized philanthropic organization not associated with the Bears.
A civil suit was filed in May, and Manning faces possible punishment from the NFL.
But Manning said, "It wasn't a plea where I'm saying, 'Yeah, I did it. I was wrong.'
"If I don't plea to this, I have to go through trial," said Manning, who was already on probation for a similar misdemeanor offense four years ago near UCLA.
"We're in season now. Then, I'd have to put it in the hands of a jury. There are tons of things that can happen with a jury. They can say it's a conspiracy, that I conspired with other guys to beat this guy up. I just can't risk that. I would rather put it all in my hands, be on probation, keeping my nose clean and not get in any trouble."
Manning acknowledged he exchanged words with the man and pushed his head, but he said he walked away after that. He and his companions left and were pulled over by police.
He said none of the three was involved in the beating.
An assault charge against Drew, now with the Jacksonville Jaguars, was dismissed in June because of insufficient evidence, and Ebell's felony charge was reduced to a misdemeanor.
"I didn't see who he got into it with," Manning said. "I don't know the guys he got into it with. I had walked away from the situation. When he started fighting someone, I had no idea who it was. ... I know it wasn't with me."
A day later, Manning signed a five-year contract with the Bears.
In a statement issued Sept. 26, general manager Jerry Angelo called the incident "embarrassing," and Manning did not argue.
"It is embarrassing that I have to go through this," Manning said. "I feel embarrassed for the team. But what can you do now?"