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Vick pleads not guilty to charges

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Barred by the NFL from reporting to work with the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick declared his innocence on federal dogfighting charges Thursday and asked the public to hold its judgment "until all the facts are shown."

Lustily jeered by hundreds of protesters as he entered and left U.S. District Court, Vick strolled in stony silence and did his only talking inside the courtroom, where his career as a superstar quarterback and his freedom are jeopardized.

Inside, his most important words were a firm "not guilty" when asked how he pleaded to a charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and "by jury" when U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson asked his preference for a trial. Hudson set a Nov. 26 trial date for Vick and his three co-defendants, all of whom pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. Hudson set aside two weeks.

"This is going to be a hard-fought trial," said Billy Martin, one of five lawyers retained by Vick. "We are conducting our own investigation, we will look into these allegations and we look forward to the opportunity to being able to walk inside this courtroom saying to the world that Michael Vick is innocent."

The 18-page indictment also lists a charge for sponsoring a dog in an animal fighting venture, but U.S. Attorney Michael Gill said the first charge supercedes it.

The four either face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted on the Travel Act violation, a felony, or one year in prison and up to $100,000 in fines if convicted on the charge of using a dog in a fighting venture.

Following the arraignment, Vick climbed into a white sport utility vehicle outside as a crowd of several hundred jeered, some yelling "you are not a role model." Others expressed their support for the 27-year-old Newport News, Va., native, who became a star in two dazzling seasons as the quarterback at Virginia Tech.

Martin read a statement outside court in which Vick asserted his innocence and apologized to his mother and family for causing them pain, and to the Falcons for not being with them as they opened their first training camp under new coach Bobby Petrino.

"I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name," Vick said in the statement. Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, stood by Martin's side as he spoke.

"I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown. Above all, I would like to say to my mom I'm sorry for what she has had to go through in this most trying of times. It has caused pain to my family and I apologize to my family."

The lawyers did not take questions.

Vick was released without bond, but with a series of conditions to meet, including the surrender of his passport, a pledge not to travel outside the immediate area of his primary residence without court approval, and to not sell or possess any dog.

Vick also was ordered to surrender any animal breeder or kennel licenses.

The allegations detailed in the graphic indictment have sparked protests by animal rights groups at the headquarters of the NFL and the Falcons. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from attending training camp while the league investigates.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the team wanted to suspend Vick for four games, the maximum penalty a team can assess a player, but the NFL asked him to wait. Instead, Blank has told the player to concentrate on his legal problems, not football.

The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in rural Surry County found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment 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. He also blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged to be more scrupulous.

His comments Thursday were his first on the case since then.

Charged along with Vick are Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach; Quanis L. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta; and Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton.

According to the indictment filed July 17, dogs not killed in the fighting pit were often shot, hanged, drowned or, in one case, slammed to the ground. The document says Vick was consulted before one losing dog was wet down and electrocuted.

It alleges that the dogfighting operation began in 2001, not long after Vick was the first overall selection in the NFL draft. His first contract was for $62 million. In 2004, he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal, then the richest in league history.

The indictment says the fights offered purses as high as $26,000, and that Vick once paid $23,000 to the owner of two pit bulls that had beaten Bad Newz Kennels dogs.

That owner is one of four cooperating witnesses cited in the document.

--- Associated Press Writers Dionne Walker, Larry O'Dell and Michael Felberbaum contributed to this report.

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