Plea deals boost prosecution's leverage against Vick

RICHMOND, Va. -- Prosecutors have more leverage against Michael Vick now that his remaining two co-defendants decided to plead guilty while he has maintained his innocence in a federal dogfighting conspiracy case.

"He's hanging out there by himself, and that's a very uncomfortable place to be," said Anne Coughlin, a University of Virginia School of Law professor and expert on criminal procedure.

Plea hearings for Vick's two co-defendants in a federal dogfighting conspiracy case will now be held back-to-back Friday morning.

The hearing for Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, Va., had originally been set for 9 a.m. Thursday before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson. The case has been rescheduled for 9:15 a.m. Friday, 15 minutes after the hearing for Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta.

An entry on the court's docket did not give a reason for postponing Peace's hearing. However, the revised schedule will streamline proceedings in the high-profile cases.

A spokesman for Vick's lawyers declined comment Tuesday on media reports quoting unnamed sources as saying prosecutors and the defense were negotiating a possible plea agreement, and that Vick faced a Friday deadline to either accept a deal or face additional charges.

But the spokesman, Collins R. Spencer III, didn't rule out the possibility of an announcement by the Vick team sometime this week, probably in Richmond, where the case is pending in U.S. District Court.

Spencer, contacted as he left the office of Vick attorney Daniel L. Meachum in Atlanta, would not elaborate on the nature of the possible announcement. Neither Meachum nor attorney William R. Martin, leader of the five-member defense team, returned phone messages.

Last month, co-defendant Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty to his role in a dogfighting conspiracy he says was financed almost entirely by the Atlanta Falcons quarterback. As part of a plea agreement, Taylor is required to cooperate with the prosecution in the case against Vick.

When Taylor agreed to testify against Vick, Coughlin said the prosecution's hand became so much stronger that an average person in Vick's shoes likely would plead guilty. With Vick's NFL career on the line and a high-powered defense team on his side, Coughlin said she initially could see him fighting to the end.

"Once you have the testimony of the other two, it's hard to imagine how Michael Vick can stand alone and emerge successfully," she said. "It's one of the most frightening positions you can be in."

Vick, 27, and the other three pleaded not guilty last month to running an interstate dogfighting enterprise known as "Bad Newz Kennels" on Vick's property in rural Surry County.

For now, Vick's trial remains scheduled for Nov. 26. The charges include conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Taylor is facing the same maximum punishment, although he probably will get substantially less because of sentencing guidelines and his cooperation with prosecutors.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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