Seeing a bloody Plaxico Burress with a bullet wound in his leg in a Manhattan nightclub last November, New York Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce reacted instinctively.
He helped his teammate.
Pierce got Burress into a car, drove him to a hospital and then took the gun that Burress used in accidentally shooting himself back to his home in New Jersey, later arranging to get it back to the wounded wide receiver's home.
It was what any friend would do for another, and Pierce on Tuesday defended his actions and expressed no regrets for helping Burress.
Speaking a day after a grand jury decided not to indict him on charges of carrying Burress' unlicensed firearm in the aftermath of the shooting, Pierce said Tuesday he acted reasonably, responsibly and instinctively in aiding his now former teammate.
Pierce, who had been silent about the shooting for the past nine months, declined to discuss any details of the incident in an interview that lasted a little more than three minutes at the Giants training camp at the University at Albany.
"I am not sorry for how I acted that night. I am not sorry for how I responded," Pierce said of the Nov. 29 shooting at the Latin Quarter nightclub, about 36 hours before the Giants had a game against the Washington Redskins. "I am sorry for putting myself in position that I had to respond the way I had to respond. There (are) a lot of lessons I learned from this. I take them to heart and I take them seriously, obviously. It has been a lot of ups and downs."
The grand jury indicted Burress on two counts of criminal possession of a weapon and one count of reckless endangerment. He faces a minimum prison sentence of 3 1/2 years if convicted. Burress pleaded not guilty to weapons charges earlier this year and is free on $100,000 bail.
Pierce said the last nine months have been trying and that he was extremely relieved when the grand jury returned no true bill against him.
While he never showed any emotion, fellow linebacker Danny Clark shed a little light on how Pierce felt. He was with his training camp roommate when Pierce learned about the grand jury's decision, and he saw his reaction.
"Like a 10-ton brick was lifted off his back," Clark said. "We were optimistic that he was going to come out of it clean and he did, so I am happy about that."
The only trace of emotion Pierce seemed to have was a hint of bitterness toward Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau when he was asked whether he was surprised that Morgenthau pressed for charges against him in recent weeks.
"I leave that between me and the D.A.," Pierce said.
Pierce was glad that the grand jury heard the facts "from his lips" when he testified last Thursday and Friday.
"I thought I acted very reasonably and responsibly and instinctively to a teammate that was in need, and that was my concern that night, to get him help," Pierce said.
Pierce thought he conveyed that to the grand jury.
"When I was there for that long, I was sure they were listening very well because I was there for a long period of time," Pierce said. "You know what, I just let the action take course. The people of New York obviously heard what I had to say. They heard all the witnesses and from everyone involved in that night and they made a decision."
While he wasn't overly pressed, Pierce twice refused to give details about the incident.
"I am tried of seeing myself on the TV and hearing my name on the TV," Pierce said. "It is time to talk about the New York Giants and the 2009 season. Anything that happened in 2008 is irrelevant at this point. I don't have nothing to say about that incident and that season because I have to move forward like our team does and that's what I plan on doing."
Pierce thanked his teammates and the Giants organization for its support.
"It's a lot easier when you are on that green field with the boys," he said. "Obviously, coming back up to Albany and getting ready for the 2009 season, that's what I have been looking forward to and that's what they have been looking forward to."
Players said word of the grand jury's decision on Monday spread by word of mouth.
"I told Antonio: 'Hey, I don't know if this is congratulations or what,'" punter Jeff Feagles said. "But it's something to put aside, put it to bed and move on. He's our teammate now and just kind of support and move on, it's football time."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora said that none of the players felt Pierce would go to jail. However, the decision removed a major distraction and insured that the Giants would have their starting middle linebacker available.
"I think he did what any one of us would have done," Umenyiora said. "I don't think he did anything wrong in any sense of the word."
The Giants released Burress in April and he has yet to sign with another team.
Burress' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said Monday he was disappointed but not surprised by the indictment, which came after Burress testified before the grand jury and expressed remorse. The grand jury heard the case after plea bargain negotiations broke down, apparently because Morgenthau was insisting that Burress serve at least two years in prison under any plea agreement.
"When you have the mayor and the district attorney both publicly demanding a maximum prison sentence, it was perhaps too much to hope for the grand jury to conduct a sympathetic review of the unique facts of this sad case," Brafman said in a statement.