NEW YORK The National Football League's Ray Rice, a Pro Bowl running back with the Baltimore Ravens, pleaded not guilty on Thursday to a charge of assaulting his fiancée at a New Jersey casino.
Police arrested Rice, known for his advocacy against bullying, together with his fiancée, Janay Palmer, outside the Revel Casino and Hotel in Atlantic City in February.
Surveillance tape at the time was alleged to show the two hitting each other in one of the casino's elevators, and Rice and Palmer both initially faced simple assault charges.
A grand jury indicted Rice on the more serious charge of aggravated assault in March, however, when the case against Palmer was dismissed. [ID:nL1N0MO29W]
If convicted, Rice could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.
At his hearing in Atlantic County Superior Court in New Jersey on Thursday, Rice applied for a discretionary program for first-time offenders, according to the Atlantic County Prosecutor's Office. Completion of the program could lead to the dismissal of Rice's case, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
Rice walked to the courthouse holding hands with Palmer and told reporters he was a "happy father and happy husband," according to sports network ESPN, which reported that the two were now married.
Rice's attorney did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Rice signed a five-year, $35 million contract with the Ravens in 2012 and helped the team to a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers.
Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome, speaking to media at a pre-draft news conference on Wednesday, said, "We’ll deal with Ray (Rice) when that time comes."
He added the team was looking to add as many as two running backs to its roster.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Jon Herskovitz and Tom Brown)