Vick Pleads Guilty to Dogfighting Charge
Michael Vick opened the door to a possible early release from federal prison Tuesday by pleading guilty in Virginia to a state charge of dogfighting, a necessary step in his quest to return to the N.F.L.
Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback now serving a 23-month federal term in Leavenworth, Kan., pleaded guilty in Surry County Circuit Court to one count of dogfighting and not guilty to one count of cruelty to animals, which the state then dropped. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Campbell handed down a three-year suspended sentence.
The pleas cleared the only outstanding charges against Vick, a move that could lead to an early release from prison. Federal law prohibits prisoners from being released to a halfway house if they have charges pending. Vick, 28, was sentenced in August 2007 and is scheduled for release on July 20, 2009. He will serve three years of probation.
Vick is expected to apply to Commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement to N.F.L. The league suspended him indefinitely in August 2007 when he pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from a dogfighting ring run from property he owned in rural Virginia.
League officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“I want to apologize to the court, my family, and to all the kids who looked up to me as a role model,” Vick told Campbell during Tuesday’s hearing. Campbell had ordered Vick to appear in court in person because of the intense public interest in the case. He arrived shackled, but the restraints were removed before the hearing.
Vick’s mother, Brenda Boddie, his brother Marcus Vick and fiancée, Kijafa Frink, attended the hearing. They had no comment as they left the courtroom. Surry County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter hugged Boddie before she left.
Vick’s problems have not been confined to the maze of dogfighting charges. He has filed for bankruptcy, having reportedly squandered the money he earned in six seasons in the N.F.L. as well as from endorsements. Vick was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001. In 2004 he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons.
His financial problems are part of the reason he is expected to appeal for a speedy return to the N.F.L.
But Vick will have to persuade Goodell that he deserves reinstatement, which could be a tough sell considering his offenses and the publicity they provoked. In pleading guilty to the federal charges last year, Vick admitted to financing the dogfighting ring, bankrolling gambling on fights and to complicity in the killings of at least six dogs that had underperformed.
At the time, Goodell wrote in a letter to Vick that his actions were “cruel and reprehensible” and his gambling was a violation of the N.F.L.’s personal-conduct policy.
“Even if you personally did not place bets, as you contend, your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your N.F.L. player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an N.F.L. player,” Goodell’s letter said.
The Humane Society of the United States said it wished that Vick’s sentence was stiffer.
“We had hoped that the Commonwealth of Virginia would send a stronger message that dogfighting crimes are cruel and unacceptable,” Michael Markarian, the executive vice president of the Humane Society, said in a statement. “Nevertheless, Michael Vick is already paying his debt to society with a federal prison sentence, and his example has demonstrated to people across the country that dogfighting is a dead-end activity that can jeopardize your freedom and your future.”