RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick declared "I am not the bad person or beast I've been made out to be" and asked for leniency in a letter to the federal judge who sentenced him to 23 months in prison for a dogfighting conspiracy.
Vick made his handwritten plea from jail as he awaited Monday's sentencing by Judge Henry E. Hudson. His five-page letter and several others from Vick supporters, including baseball great Hank Aaron and former heavyweight boxing champion George Foreman, were released by the U.S. District Court in Richmond on Thursday.
"I take full responsibility for my actions and am ashamed that my actions hurt animals and allowed animals to be hurt and killed," Vick wrote. "... Your Honor, I just ask for a second chance."
The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback's appeal wasn't enough to overcome Hudson's finding that Vick lied at various times about his hands-on role in helping kill pit bulls and about his marijuana use, which was detected by a drug screening. Hudson cited those lapses in giving Vick a longer sentence than two fellow defendants, who previously were sentenced to 18 months and 21 months.
"Throughout this entire case, I've just tried to be honest," Vick wrote. "Sometimes I didn't know how to be and was scared, but eventually I put everything out on the table and left no stones unturned."
Vick said he's an animal lover but that he grew up in a culture where dogfighting went unpunished while people were arrested for guns or drugs. His mother, Brenda Boddie, also alluded to Vick's upbringing in a rough area of Newport News in her letter to the judge.
"Michael could have easily followed the wrong crowd but he chose to make something out of himself and he got his family out of the projects," she wrote. "Michael has had a lot on his shoulders since he was around 14 yrs old, working hard to get where he wanted to be."
Vick said he now knows his actions were wrong.
"Your Honor, I am not the bad person or the beast I've been made out to be. I have been talked about and ridiculed on a day to day basis by people who really dont know Michael Vick the human being," Vick wrote.
He described himself as a "humble, soft spoken and caring" father of three and lamented the effect his crime has had on his older children, ages 5 and 2.
"This has been painful because my son watches the news and can understand whats going on with his father," he wrote, adding that his daughter asked him on a regular basis when he would be home to play games with her, "but I have no answer."
He also said his actions have left his own once-enviable life in tatters.
"Honestly, I wish I had never been involved in dogfighting," he wrote. "As a result I've lost everything -- my good name, job, endorsements, and now my freedom."
Vick blamed his marijuana use on his father, Michael Boddie, who talked to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about his famous son's dogfighting activities in August. Boddie told the newspaper: "I wish people would stop sugarcoating it. This is Mike's thing."
Vick wrote: "I was suffering from a deep state of depression, and after my father attacked me in the media, I was heartbroken. ... That's no excuse for using marijuana, but I didn't know how to cope with all the difficulties I was facing because it was all new to me."
He alluded to the nearly $1 million the court ordered him to set aside for the care and placement of dozens of pit bulls that were seized from his property in southeastern Virginia, saying he had no objection to paying because he believes the dogs "should live a good life."
Vick noted that he had never before been convicted of a crime, and he listed some of his charitable contributions and vowed to use his money only for good works in the future.
Aaron, the former home run king who is now an executive with the Atlanta Braves, lauded Vick's community service.
"From the moment Michael moved to Atlanta, he appeared to deal with his success very well," Aaron wrote. "From what I understand, he took it upon himself to support the area's underprivileged kids, bring them to games, visit them in the hospital, and give money to the organizations that help them. Michael made a favorable impression on me from the moment I met him."
Vick's lead attorney, Billy Martin, said in a statement: "Mr. Vick is much more than the caricature some in the media have chosen to portray."
He listed other charitable works by Vick and said the former Virginia Tech star "deserves to be judged on the totality of his actions, not just the latest headlines."
Vick's troubles still are not over. He and his three co-defendants -- Purnell Peace, Quanis Phillips and Tony Taylor -- face state animal cruelty charges in Surry County. Vick's trial is set for April 2.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.