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Lawyer: Vick to plead guilty to dogfighting charges

  • By Associated Press
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RICHMOND, Va. -- More than football, Michael Vick's freedom is the question now.

With three associates prepared to testify that he brutally executed dogs and bankrolled gambling, the NFL star agreed Monday to "accept full responsibility" for his role in a dogfighting ring and plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Worries about playing time will have to wait while Vick faces prison time -- from one to five years.

The maximum term is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, although federal sentencing guidelines likely would call for less. Defense attorneys would not divulge details of the plea agreement or how much time Vick can expect to serve.

A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the terms are not final, told The Associated Press that prosecutors will recommend a sentence of a year to 18 months.

The official said such a sentence would be more than what is usually recommended for first-time offenders, reflecting the government's attempt to show that animal abusers will receive more than a slap on the wrist.

However, sources tell NFL Network's Adam Schefter the agreement calls for a 10-12 month prison sentence.

U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson is not bound by prosecutors' recommendations or the sentencing guidelines and will have the final say.

Michael Vick timeline

April 25: Local authorities raid a property Vick owned in Surry County, Va., reportedly finding 66 dogs (mostly pit bulls), a dogfighting pit, bloodstained carpets and equipment associated with dogfighting.

May 29: Authorities obtain search warrant to look for as many as 30 dog carcasses that sources claimed were buried in various locations on the property. The warrant was never executed by Surry County officials.

June 7: Department of Agriculture executes search warrant at property, with the help of state police investigators, finding remains of seven dogs.

July 6: Federal investigators conduct second search at Vick property. Federal authorities file court documents in Richmond, obtained by The Associated Press, detailing aspects of the case for the first time. Vick was not named in those documents.

July 17: Vick indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to illegal dogfighting.

July 26: On the same day the Falcons begin training camp, Vick pleads not guilty to all charges at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Richmond. Vick is released and a trial date is set for Nov. 26.

July 27: Nike suspends Vick’s endorsement deal without pay, Reebok stops sales of Vick’s No. 7 Falcons jersey and the trading-card company Donruss announces decision to pull Vick’s card from any future 2007 releases.

July 30: Tony Taylor, one of Vick’s three co-defendants, pleads guilty and says he will cooperate fully with federal authorities in the government’s case against Vick.

Aug. 17: The other two co-defendants, Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace, plead guilty to dogfighting charges, saying Vick helped execute poorly performing dogs in training sessions earlier this year.

Aug. 20: Vick accepts a plea deal in his federal dogfighting case. He is scheduled to appear in court Aug. 27 for his plea hearing.

Aug. 24: Vick's lawyers file their client's plea in federal court. In the agreement, signed by Vick on Aug. 23, Vick admits to conspiracy in a dogfighting ring and helping kill pit bulls. However, contrary to testimony of Vick's three co-defendants, the Falcons quarterback denies ever betting on the fights, only bankrolling them. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspends Vick indefinitely.

Aug. 27: Vick appears at U.S. District Court in Richmond, Va., to plead guilty to federal dogfighting charges. At a subsequent news conference, Vick apologizes to the NFL and his Atlanta Falcons teammates in his first public statements.

Nov. 19: Vick began serving his prison term, a move his lawyer said demonstrated Vick's willingness to take responsibility for his actions.

Dec. 10: Vick is sentenced to 23 months in jail for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy that involved gambling and killing pit bulls.

Twenty-five days after he declared that he looked forward to clearing his name, Vick said through defense lawyer Billy Martin that he will plead guilty. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made," Martin said in a statement. "Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

The NFL noted in a statement that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback's admission wasn't in line with what he told commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after being charged.

"We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons," the NFL said.

The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL's own investigation wraps up.

The Falcons said they were "certainly troubled" by news of the plea, but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell's request.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association, said in a statement:

"We believe the criminal conduct to which Mr. Vick has pled guilty today cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Speaking personally, as I have previously stated, the practice of dog fighting is offensive and completely unacceptable. I can only hope that Mr. Vick, who is young man, will learn from this awful experience."

In a telephone interview with the AP, Martin said Vick is paying a high price for allowing old friends to influence his behavior, but he emphasized that his client takes full responsibility.

"There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with," Martin said. "He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process."

The lawyer said salvaging Vick's NFL career was never part of the discussions.

"Football is not the most important thing in Michael Vick's life," Martin said. "He wants to get his life back on track."

Another defense attorney, James D. "Butch" Williams Jr., alluded to the harsh public backlash against Vick since the July 17 indictment detailed the abuse of dogs on Vick's property in Surry County, Va.

"Michael is a father, he's a son, he's a human being - people oftentimes forget that," he said, adding that Vick is "very remorseful."

"Nobody's been rougher on Mike than Mike's been on himself," Williams said.

Animal-rights activists said they hoped the high-profile case would increase public awareness and help bring down other dogfighting rings.

"The only good that can come from this case is that the American people dedicate themselves to the task of rooting out dogfighting in every infected area where it thrives," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

The plea deal was announced just as a new grand jury began meeting. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in the works, but Vick's plea most likely means he will not face new charges on top of the original: conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.

Three of Vick's original co-defendants already had pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial. Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach signed statements saying Vick participated in executing at least eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and hanging.

Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty last month, also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating funds for his "Bad Newz Kennels" operation in rural Virginia, not far from Vick's hometown of Newport News.

The gambling allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Vick's Atlanta attorney, Daniel Meachum, told the AP that Vick is taking a chance with his guilty plea as far as his career is concerned because there have been no discussions with the league in recent days.

"There's no promise or even a request of the league to make a promise," Meachum said.

He said the plea deal involves only the federal case and that he didn't know if there had been any discussions about resolving state charges that may still be filed.

The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in Surry County found 66 dogs, some of them injured, and items typically used in dogfighting. They included a "rape stand" that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a "breakstick" used to pry open a dog's mouth.

Vick contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely visited. The former Virginia Tech star also blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged to be more scrupulous.

The July 17 indictment said dogs that lost fights or fared poorly in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging, electrocution or other brutal means. The grisly details fueled public protests against Vick and cost him some of his lucrative endorsement deals.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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