A Texas judge on Wednesday set a tentative Dec. 1 trial date for Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who said through his lawyer that he wants his child abuse case resolved so he can get back to work on the field.
Peterson sat in the audience with his wife during the brief court hearing in Conroe, Texas, north of Houston. He wasn’t asked to enter a plea and did not speak during the proceedings, during which lawyers for both sides huddled in front of Montgomery County Judge Kelly Case.
Afterward, Rusty Hardin, Peterson’s attorney, told reporters that his client is “champing at the bit” to respond to the allegations. He called Peterson a “good man,” adding, “this is a case about a parenting decision.”
Asked how he was feeling, Peterson, swarmed by camera crews and reporters as he entered a Mercedes SUV, responded, “I’m good.”
Peterson has been absent from the football field since his indictment on a felony charge of reckless or negligent injury of a child for whipping his 4-year-old son with a switch in May. The child was visiting him in Texas at the time and Peterson has said he disciplined the boy for fighting with another child over a video game. In a statement last month, he said he was raised with similar physical punishment and didn’t believe the whipping was criminal.
The crush of media inside and outside the courthouse reflected the seemingly insatiable interest in the story.
At the hearing, Peterson, wearing a suit and tie, sat quietly in the front row. Across the aisle from him, other defendants wore scruffy, ill-fitting, black-and-gray striped outfits issued at the jail. The women were in pink and white. The inmates’ shackles jangled at times during the live camera feed from the hearing.
Hardin told Case his client wants a speedy trial because he can’t get back to work until it is resolved. “The problem we have is he’s getting killed publicly by different allegations, many of them unfounded,” the attorney said.
Trial date set
The defense lawyer requested a Nov. 18 trial start, which would be unusually speedy. The judge noted that in Texas, the deadline to complete discovery is a month before a trial starts.
The judge said he had two other cases scheduled that week. The two sides then discussed a Dec. 1 date.
The trial date hinges in part on whether Case continues as the presiding judge.
Montgomery County Attorney Brett Ligon asked the judge to apologize and recuse himself for recently calling Hardin and prosecutors a “whore” or “media whore.” Case apologized, but said he’d known Hardin for years and was trying to make a joke.
Hardin told the judge he wasn’t bothered by the comment. “I’ve been called worse,” he said.
Case declined to step aside, so Ligon later filed a formal motion seeking his removal. Hardin said in an interview Wednesday night that a recusal hearing has been set for Friday morning. Asked whether he would argue for the judge to be removed, Hardin replied: “Why would I want to recuse a judge just because he called me a media whore?”
Although Case said he shouldn’t rule on matters pending a decision on the recusal, he agreed with Hardin’s request to seal for now a prosecution motion.
Hardin said the motion to include “extraneous acts” would be prejudicial if it were made public and would prevent Peterson from getting a fair trial. It’s unclear what the motion contains, but under Texas law, extraneous acts would be behavior similar to the charged crime. As part of the proceedings Wednesday, Peterson agreed to not have contact with his injured son until the case is resolved.
The star’s immediate football future hinges on its outcome. Peterson, 29, is at what is seen as an advanced age for his bruising position.
And while he has been the face of the Vikings, Peterson is nearing the end of his contract, potentially putting him on the market for 2015.
After the indictment, the Vikings benched Peterson for their Sept. 14 game, then reinstated him. Less than two days later, the team announced that he would go on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list, meaning he wouldn’t play but would still be paid his $11 million salary.
If convicted, Peterson faces a maximum sentence of two years in prison, but as a first-time offender, he would be more likely to get probation.
Controversy over foundation
Peterson has confined his comments since his arrest largely to Twitter posts, including ones this week in which he objected to reporting on his All Day Foundation, whose activities were documented Sunday in the Star Tribune.
Peterson sent out a series of tweets Tuesday, saying the media “never let the truth get in the way of a good story.”
The Star Tribune reported that the foundation made contradictory federal tax reports from 2009 through 2011.
In one instance, the foundation’s records showed that $70,000 — the largest donation for that year — had been sent in 2009 to Straight From the Heart Ministries in Laurel, Md. The president and founder of the Maryland organization said she had never received a donation from Peterson’s foundation.
The foundation’s 2009 records also showed that the Dallas-based North Texas Food Bank had received one of just three overall donations that year from Peterson’s foundation. Again, the food bank’s officials said they could not recall getting money. Instead, the East Texas Food Bank, based in Tyler, Texas, said it had received a donation that year.
Bruce Richman, a philanthropy adviser to Peterson, contends the Star Tribune didn’t make enough of an effort to contact the foundation, which took down its website after Peterson’s indictment. The foundation’s phone number on tax documents was incorrect.
Richman said this week that the foundation, during the years the Star Tribune reviewed, “was not well run” and had “very little oversight.” He added that the foundation’s reports during that time contained at least one “typo” involving its grants.
He said the confusion over the donation to the food banks was “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“We’ve come a long ways,” said Richman. “It’s not as bad as it seems.”
Richman also addressed the foundation’s records showing a Straight From the Heart Ministries contribution going to Maryland. “If it was a mistake” in the foundation’s financial records, “that’s terrible,” he said.
Richman said the foundation had actually sent its donation to Straight From the Heart Ministries in California, a different group.
The foundation’s records do not list the California donation during the years 2009 through 2011.
But the foundation, according to its own records for 2010 and 2011, sent a second donation to Straight From the Heart Ministries — there is no address listed — and then a third donation to Straight From the Heart Ministry in North Carolina. The Star Tribune was unable to reach the North Carolina group.
Richman, meanwhile, directed the newspaper to Bill Horn of Straight From the Heart Ministries in California, adding that Horn might be difficult to contact because “he’s kind of hiding.”
In a story last month, ESPN reported that Horn, president and co-founder of the California group, served on the board of Peterson’s foundation. The foundation’s 2009 financial records list William Horn as the secretary and treasurer. The Star Tribune was unable to reach Horn on Wednesday.
Richman said the foundation made at least $423,500 in grants during 2012 and 2013. He acknowledged that the foundation’s 2012 financial report is overdue and that an extension has been requested for the 2013 report.