"I'm a happy father and a happy husband right now," Rice said as he walked through a scrum of Baltimore reporters on hand for an early morning stakeout - as if The Wire was meeting Boardwalk Empire.
Rice, 27, arrived wearing a gold tie and holding the hand of his much-taller now-wife, Janay Palmer, 27, last seen internationally being dragged unconscious out of the casino elevator in video obtained by TMZ Sports. He joked about a reporter's NFL tie, and wished everyone a blessed day as he took a long walk into the courthouse.
After the hearing, Rice showed more of a running back's finesse, slipping unnoticed out a side door into a waiting SUV as his attorney addressed the cameras. His only word in court was "present" when Judge Michael Donio called his name. He also spent upward of two hours after the hearing being interviewed (out of public view) and applying for the program.
His attorney, Michael Diamondstein, said Rice, whose last public appearance was in the stands at an Ultimate Fighting bout, was "very remorseful for his actions."
"He loves Janay and wants to move forward," Diamondstein said. "He's a high-caliber individual."
He said the incident stemmed from a "disagreement with his wife." He declined to answer a question about whether Rice had been drinking.
"There was a momentary lapse of reason," he said. "He let himself down, he let his wife down, he let his community down."
He said Rice was unlikely to accept a plea deal offered in court if he was not accepted into the pre-trial intervention program. That deal, said First Assistant Prosecutor Diane Ruberton, would give him probation in exchange for a guilty plea and anger management classes.
Diamondstein said the couple's wedding, on the day after the indictment, was long planned and that they were both in counseling. "They're both very happy right now," he said.
Palmer has said she does not want the case to go forward. She had no comment Thursday but appeared relaxed as she waited out the proceedings.
Rice and Palmer were initially charged by Atlantic City police with simple assault, a disorderly persons offense, and released on summonses following the incident shortly before 3 a.m. Feb. 15 at Revel Casino Resort. The summons noted that Palmer had been knocked unconscious.
After video surfaced on TMZ Sports, the case was referred to the Prosecutor's Office for review, and a grand jury indictment followed. The charge carries a maximum penalty of three to five years in prison.
Prosecutors said Thursday that they had additional video evidence of the alleged assault, presumably from inside the elevator.
The simple assault charge against Palmer was administratively dismissed.
Diamondstein said Thursday he did not know who had released the security video to TMZ. "You'll have to ask the Revel that," he said. Asked if Rice had plans to return to the casino, he said: "They're not going to have to worry about that."
Rice's problems may yet follow him out of Atlantic County. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti earlier called Rice's arrest "embarassing and disappointing," but said Rice would still be their running back. The NFL is also monitoring the case.
But the latest reports out of Baltimore were that the Ravens would be pursuing running backs in this weekend's NFL draft, although not necessarily because of Rice's legal problems.
Prosecutors must accept his application for the program, which would require him to be supervised for at least a year with conditions that could include random drug testing, community service, and counseling. The state says the program "strives to solve personal problems which tend to result from the conditions that appear to cause crime."
Rice is due back in court at 9 a.m. May 29.