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COURT IS ASKED TO SPARE BENNETT JAIL SENTENCE

Former Buffalo Bills linebacker Cornelius Bennett still faces league disciplinary action and a possible lawsuit by a former lover, his attorney told an appellate court judge today as he tried to keep the defensive star out of jail.

Attorney James M. Shaw also said Bennett regularly pays child support for a 2-year-old out-of-wedlock daughter he had been visiting the day before a hotel tryst here ended in charges of violence.

The court disclosures came as Shaw asked Erie County Judge John V. Rogowski to lift the 60-day jail sentence imposed a month ago on a misdemeanor sexual-abuse charge. Under state sentencing laws, Bennett would only spend 40 days in actual custody in Erie County Correctional Facility in Alden.

Urging Rogowski to place Bennett on probation and mandate community service rather than jail, Shaw also said Bennett still faces a disciplinary proceeding before the National Football League over the early-morning hotel tryst and may even be sued by his former lover.

Bennett did not appear in court for the hearing. His attorney argued that Bennett's star status was the reason for the jail sentence. Prosecutors countered that the football player had been allowed to plead guilty to a lesser count, could have been given a one-year term on the charge to which he pleaded guilty and that an appeals court is only supposed to overturn sentences that are unduly harsh.

Bennett, whose second wife gave birth to his second daughter two months ago, had had an eight-year affair with the woman who met him at the downtown Buffalo hotel last May, the attorney said. Shaw also denied knowing the identity of the mother of Bennett's out-of-wedlock daughter.

The star athlete's criminal predicament has "tested" his current marriage, Shaw added.

On Feb. 26, City Judge Robert T. Russell Jr. ordered Bennett to begin immediately a 60-day jail term on his Sept. 9 guilty plea to a misdemeanor sexual-abuse charge for physically injuring his former lover in the Hyatt Regency at about 5:30 p.m. May 18, 1997.

After Russell agreed to stay Bennett's sentence, his lawyers obtained a series of further stays pending a ruling by an Erie County Court judge.

Prosecutor Raymond C. Herman III today contended Russell had not imposed a harsh sentence for Bennett's "act of violence," which left his former lover in pain and in need of hospital care. Rogowski reserved decision but promised a quick ruling.

During today's hearing, Shaw contended the criminal case has damaged Bennett's earning power. The attorney called Bennett "a humble human being and a decent Christian" who is given to helping many charities and had a "spotless" record until the hotel incident here last spring.

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