|Atlanta Falcons quarterback and Hampton Roads native Michael Vick has accepted a plea deal – and a likely prison sentence – to avoid additional federal charges related to a professional dogfighting operation, according to one of Vick's attorneys.|
Vick is going to enter a guilty plea to the felony conspiracy charge next Monday at 10:30 a.m., said Lawrence Woodward, one of Vick's defense attorneys.
"Mike's accepting full responsibility," Woodward said. "He's going to do everything he can personally and professionally to make this situation right."
Vick's decision came after his last two co-defendants pleaded guilty Friday and agreed in deals with prosecutors to testify against Vick if they were called to do so at trial. A third co-defendant pleaded guilty in July under similar conditions.
With his plea deal, Vick is expected to avoid more serious charges related to a large dogfighting venture called "Bad Newz Kennels" that he is accused of almost entirely funding from 2001 to 2007.
The deal, in its form last week, was expected to include a recommendation from prosecutors that Vick serve at least a year in prison, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. The judge will have the final say in sentencing.
It is unclear how the plea deal will affect Vick's NFL career. League Commissioner Roger Goodell said last week that the NFL was still working on its own review of the case and is closely monitoring talks between Vick's lawyers and prosecutors.
"We're going to do what we always said we were going to do, which is rely on the facts," Goodell said. "If there is some type of a plea agreement, then we will obviously take the time to understand what that plea is and we'll see how it fits into our personal conduct (policy)."
Players and coaches began reacting to a potential plea deal by Vick when the possibility surfaced last week. Redskins coach and team president Joe Gibbs, a friend of Falcons owner Arthur Blank , said the case has been tough "for everybody in the NFL."
"Michael Vick's one of the premier players in the league and no one wanted this to happen," said Gibbs, who owned a small piece of the Falcons before he returned to the Redskins in 2004.
Redskins defensive back David Macklin, a close friend of Vick's who played against him growing up in Newport News, said last week that the case has been hard on Vick.
"We're keeping him in our prayers," Macklin said. "It's a situation he's going to be able to get through. He's going to overcome. We're behind him 100 percent. I've been able to speak with him and he's realizing a lot of things right now. We'll just see how it goes."
At Virginia Tech, where Vick starred in college, his former coaches said last week they didn't want to talk about the case until it was over.
"Nobody condones any of that stuff, if it's true, but when somebody asks me about Michael, I think about being front-row center for a highlight show," said Tech offensive coordinator Bryan Stinespring. "I think about him playing pitch and catch with my 6-year-old son at that time before practice. That stuff is the highlight of my son's life. Now his heart is breaking."
Said head coach Frank Beamer: "Michael is one of ours, and we want the best for him. But I'm going to wait until I hear the final word."
The NFL's recently toughened player conduct policy empowers Goodell to fine, suspend or impose a lifetime ban on a player for criminal behavior. He's levied harsh penalties on players even for being arrested.
Goodell suspended Tennessee Titans cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones for the 2007 season after he was arrested five times since being drafted in 2005.
In another move, Goodell suspended Chris Henry of the Cincinnati Bengals for eight games this year after a 14-month span in which he was arrested four times and served a previous two-game suspension for his behavior.
Tank Johnson , who served jail time for violating probation related to a gun charge, was also suspended for eight games this year. Johnson's team, the Chicago Bears, released the defensive tackle in June after he was pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk.
Goodell banned Vick from attending the Falcons' training camp after the star quarterback was indicted in July with his three co-defendants. An NFL spokesman said Goodell would withhold further action until the league had completed its review.
In a July interview with SI.com, Goodell said Vick had assured him he was not involved in dogfighting.
"His comments to me were very consistent with what he has said publicly: That he does not have any interest in that, that it wasn't happening at his property, and that was his discussion," Goodell said. "And I was very clear with him that if it's happening on your property, it's your responsibility."
A hearing date is expected to be set soon for a judge to accept Vick's deal. It could be months before he receives his sentence. Sentencing dates of Nov. 30 and Dec. 14 have been set for his co-defendants.
Vick, 27, Quanis L. Phillips, 28, Purnell Peace, 35, and Tony Taylor, 34, are accused of starting the pit bull fighting venture in early 2001, the spring Vick became the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft after his final season at Virginia Tech.
In May of that year, Taylor found a location in rural Surry County that looked suitable for housing and training the dogs, and Vick bought the property, at 1915 Moonlight Road, in June, according to a summary of facts that Taylor signed for his plea deal, indicating that he agreed the information was accurate.
Peace joined the operation later that year, and the men began buying dogs and puppies, Taylor's summary said. In 2002, according to the indictment, the group put a name to the outfit: "Bad Newz Kennels."
A source close to the case said prosecutors have a photograph of Vick and his co-defendants sporting that name on headbands and shirts.
The dog "testing" sessions began in summer 2002, followed by the first executions, Taylor's summary said. All four defendants, Vick included, put some of their dogs through fights to determine which ones were good fighters, the summary said.
According to Taylor's summary, Peace and Phillips, a childhood friend of Vick's, each shot at least one dog after those testing sessions. Taylor shot one and electrocuted another, according to his summary.
When the men fought their dogs in real matches, they placed bets with the competing dog's owner, and the purses rose through the years, according to the indictment and the signed fact summaries from Peace, Phillips and Taylor.
One of the earliest fights, in spring 2002, involved wagers of $500 with a dog owner from North Carolina. In March 2003, Peace and Vick sponsored a fight with bets of $13,000 per side, according to the indictment.
In April 2007, Vick, Peace and Phillips executed about eight dogs that performed poorly in another testing session, according to the fact summaries of Peace and Phillips. The summaries say Vick took part in the executions, done by hanging and drowning.
According to his co-defendants, Vick almost exclusively funded the operation and the gambling money. Peace, in his fact summary, said Vick paid him about $3,000 a month to be the dogs' primary caretaker.