Lawyers for NFL quarterback Michael Vick announced yesterday that he has taken the deal offered by prosecutors and will plead guilty next week to a dogfighting-conspiracy charge.
Vick's lead lawyer, Billy Martin of Washington, said the plea agreement was reached Friday with the U.S. attorney's office in Richmond. Vick will appear in U.S. District Court in Richmond on Monday.
According to a statement issued by Martin, Vick accepts responsibility for his actions and his mistakes and apologizes to those "hurt by this matter."
Sentencing will likely be scheduled for the fall.
The plea agreement calls for a prison term of 12 to 36 months, according to a source with knowledge of last week's talks between Vick's defense team and the prosecution. Other sources have said the sentencing guidelines will be closer to 12 to 18 months.
However, a federal judge at sentencing is not necessarily restricted by the guidelines.
The combined single charge against Vick -- conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture -- carries a statutory maximum prison sentence of five years.
Yesterday, in an event highly unusual for U.S. District Court, trial Judge Henry E. Hudson invited into his courtroom the several dozen journalists, both local and out-of-town, who were keeping watch for Vick outside the federal courthouse downtown.
Informally, without convening court, the judge told them Vick will plead guilty Monday at 10:30 a.m. and is not scheduled to appear in court before then. Hudson said he thought the journalists must be "tired of sitting on the front steps of the courthouse" when nothing in the case was going to happen for a week.
Vick's decision to plead guilty is a key development in an investigation into dogfighting allegations that surfaced when a cousin's arrest on drug charges led authorities to property Vick owns in Surry County.
By end of business Friday, Vick's three codefendants had all pleaded guilty. Purnell A. Peace, 28, of Atlanta and Quanis L. Phillips, 35, of Virginia Beach pleaded guilty Friday morning. Tony Taylor pleaded guilty last month.
According to the indictment and other court papers, Vick and his three co-defendants were participants in Bad Newz Kennels, a dogfighting venture based at the Surry property.
Starting in 2001, the group acquired and trained American pit bull dogs for fighting. Starting in 2002, they began entering and gambling on their dogs in arranged fights at the Surry property, elsewhere in Virginia and in other states, according to court filings.
The dogfighting activities continued into this year,
Both Peace and Phillips, in summaries of facts filed with their plea agreements, reinforce allegations that Vick took part in killing dogs that were tested and deemed unfit for the fighting pit.
In identical paragraphs, the two men say that in April they and Vick executed about eight dogs. They used methods of killing the animals that included hanging and drowning. Other court papers specify that, routinely, methods also included shooting, electrocution or slamming to the ground.
"All three participated in executing the dogs," the statements say.
Their plea agreements require cooperation with authorities and testimony against Vick, greatly increasing the decision pressure on the 27-year-old athlete from Newport News.
Also contributing to the pressure on Vick was a new indictment prosecutors intended to obtain with at least one additional charge. That charge would have substantially increased the prison time that Vick, alone, would have faced at trial.
Vick's deadline for accepting the plea agreement was Friday, sources said. The prosecutors would have gone to the grand jury sometime this week.
Martin's statement on behalf of Vick was released shortly before Hudson's 3 p.m. session with reporters in the courtroom.
"After consulting with his family over the weekend," Martin said, "Michael Vick asked that I announce today that he has reached an agreement with federal prosecutors regarding the charges pending against him.
"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. Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."
Lawyers for Vick negotiated with the prosecutors, assistant U.S. attorneys Michael Gill and Brian Whisler, through last week. A source said at least one Vick lawyer was in touch with NFL officials last week regarding the effect a guilty plea would have on his pro football career.
By yesterday afternoon, Vick had not received a reply from the NFL, a source said.
On July 26, Vick had pleaded not guilty. After court that day, he said through a lawyer that he looked forward to clearing his name and that he wished he could be with his Atlanta Falcons teammates. The Falcons had started training the same day. Vick was barred from attending by the NFL.
Contact Tom Campbell at (804) 649-6416 or email@example.com.