Because three freshman University of Tennessee football players did not snatch a cheeseburger from an alleged victim, they face charges of attempted aggravated robbery instead of straight aggravated robbery.
"That's a huge difference," said local defense attorney Johnny Houston, who is not associated with the case. "It doesn't sound like much, but there is a huge difference from a B to a C felony."
A Class C felony is eligible for alternative sentencing, which can be anything from probation to house arrest, he said, but alternative sentencing is highly unlikely for a Class B felony.
Mike Edwards, Nu'Keese Richardson and Janzen Jackson were arrested early Thursday morning and each booked on three counts of attempted aggravated robbery.
They were not on the team's travel roster and did not make the trip to Oxford, Miss., for today's game, a Tennessee spokesperson said.
The charges stem from an incident that occurred near campus when three young men outside a gas station were approached by three other men who demanded money, Knoxville police said. The robbers were armed with an air-powered pellet gun, police said.
The men showed the robbers their empty wallets and said they didn't have any money, but they did have a cheeseburger, which was offered but not taken, police said.
Because they did not take anything from the alleged victims, the players were charged with attempted aggravated robbery, a Class C felony that carries a sentence of three to six years in prison, Mr. Houston said. A Class B felony ranges from eight to 30 years under Tennessee law, he said.
To qualify for aggravated status, a robbery must have been committed with something that's perceived as a deadly weapon, Mr. Houston said. That could be anything from a stick to a knife to an unloaded gun to a pellet gun.
"There's no legal difference, but there is a logical difference," Mr. Houston said.
The fact that an air pellet gun was used rather than a handgun "could make a prosecutor look on them a little more favorably," he said. "But in terms of being an element of the offense, it wouldn't really change anything."
All three players have been released from the Knox County Detention Center.
Mr. Richardson was arraigned in jail Thursday and did not enter a plea. Knox County General Sessions Court records show he is being represented by a public defender and will appear in court on Nov. 23.
Mr. Edwards is scheduled for an arraignment Friday, at which time he could enter a plea and name an attorney. He also will appear in court on Nov. 23, court records show.
Updated court records were not available for Mr. Jackson. His attorney Don Bosch, who regularly represents UT athletes, did not return messages seeking comment Friday.
On Thursday, Mr. Bosch professed his client's innocence. Mr. Jackson was released on his own recognizance and did not have to post bail.
That's highly unusual with a crime as high as a Class C felony and may indicate that authorities have serious doubts about Mr. Jackson's involvement, Mr. Houston said.
Mr. Jackson's role was unclear, as Knoxville police warrants indicate Mr. Edwards and Mr. Richardson committed the robbery and Mr. Jackson approached his teammate at some point and said, "We've got to go."
The suspects' female driver, Marie Montmarquet, 21, was arrested with the trio and booked on charges of attempted aggravated robbery, simple possession of schedule four narcotics and possession of drug paraphernalia, police said.
Some UT alumni expressed dismay at the situation, especially because Coach Lane Kiffin had run a clean program since coming to Knoxville.
"My initial thoughts are not printable," said Doyle Attaway, a 1973 UT graduate and vice president of Raymond James in Chattanooga.
"(These players) are young, they're probably away from home for the first time and these are kids that are 17, 18 years old," he said. "They did something stupid, and it's obvious they were not thinking. Their futures are probably compromised by this, and it's so sad, especially in the case of Nu'Keese and Jackson, who may have a career in professional football."
Sports Editor Jay Greeson contributed to this story.