Vick Pleads Not Guilty

The Associated Press
Friday, July 27, 2007; 2:51 AM

RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick will spend the next four months defending himself against federal dogfighting charges instead of mastering a new coach's playbook and dissecting game film of opposing defenses.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback's elite five-member legal team doesn't expect it to be easy and his career could be in jeopardy.

"This is going to be a hard-fought trial," defense attorney Billy Martin told reporters Thursday after Vick pleaded not guilty to participating in a dogfighting ring that allegedly executed underperforming pit bulls by hanging, electrocution or other brutal means.

Three co-defendants also pleaded not guilty. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson set the trial of all four for Nov. 26 _ four days after the 11th of 16 regular-season games the Falcons will play under new coach Bobby Petrino.

The ghastly activities outlined in an 18-page indictment returned last week have sparked widespread outrage. Vick's arrival at the federal courthouse was greeted by protesters holding signs with messages like "Neuter Mike Vick" and "Prosecute All Dogfighters." The protesters' boos and jeers drowned out shouts of encouragement from badly outnumbered Vick supporters.

In a written statement, Vick declared his innocence and pleaded with the public to give him the benefit of the doubt until his day in court.

"I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name," Vick said in the statement, which Martin read to reporters. "I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown."

He also apologized to his Falcons teammates and to his mother "for what she has had to go through in this most trying of times."

Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, stood next to Martin as he read the statement but did not speak. The lawyers did not answer questions.

Earlier, in court, Hudson asked Vick how he pleaded to a charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities.

"Not guilty," the 27-year-old NFL star said firmly.

He asked for a trial by jury, as did his co-defendants.

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