NFL's Vick Agrees To Plead Guilty

Protesters, including Mike Brazell, center, from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, returned to the courthouse yesterday as Vick's decision was announced. Vick may face state charges in Virginia as well.
Protesters, including Mike Brazell, center, from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, returned to the courthouse yesterday as Vick's decision was announced. Vick may face state charges in Virginia as well. (By Mark Gormus -- Richmond Times-dispatch Via Associated Press)
By Mark Maske and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Michael Vick agreed yesterday to plead guilty to the federal dogfighting charges against him, a move that could land the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback in prison and leaves his once-dynamic football career shrouded in uncertainty.

Vick is scheduled to appear Monday in U.S. District Court in Richmond, according to his attorneys and the court's docket. Sources familiar with the case said he is expected to plead guilty to a single conspiracy count and that the recommended sentencing guideline range will be 12 to 18 months in prison. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the plea deal's terms were not publicly announced.

"Michael is prepared to take full responsibility for allowing any and all of this to happen," Vick's Washington-based attorney, William R. (Billy) Martin, said yesterday. "He needs to put all of this behind him. He's 27 years old and he has a full life ahead of him. He wants to get back to the life he had before."

That may not be possible. Vick's fall from the top ranks of National Football League stars is one of the most precipitous ever for an athlete in the prime of his playing career. And it raises questions of whether Vick will play again, since he still faces possible discipline by the NFL under the league's player conduct policy.

Vick, who could not be reached to comment yesterday, decided to accept the plea deal after consulting with family members over the weekend, his attorney said. Vick's father, Michael Boddie, who lives near Vick's home town of Newport News, Va., but is estranged from the quarterback and his mother, said in a telephone interview, "He could have saved a lot of people a lot of heartache, like his mother, for one, if he'd done what was right from the beginning."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, which is prosecuting the case, declined to comment. Any scheduled plea deal can collapse, even at the last minute, and U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson would have to accept the agreement. Hudson also is free to impose a sentence on Vick above or below the guideline range.

Vick's decision to plead guilty, which came after his three co-defendants entered pleas and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, may not end his legal troubles. Virginia prosecutors are considering additional state charges against Vick, and sources said the issue is not addressed in the federal plea agreement.

Legal experts said the Fifth Amendment's ban on double jeopardy -- trying someone twice for the same offense -- likely would not apply here because the broad federal conspiracy count is different than potential state charges.

"It's a very tough position that Vick is in,'' said Anne Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Virginia. "The federal charge wouldn't necessarily cover stuff he did in Virginia.'' Dogfighting is a felony in Virginia, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vick and his co-defendants -- Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips -- were charged last month with operating a dogfighting ring based at a Vick-owned property in southeastern Virginia. The indictment portrays Vick as an active member of the venture who traveled to dogfights, paid debts for bets on fights and participated in the killing of poorly performing dogs. Vick pleaded not guilty in a Richmond courtroom last month and is scheduled to stand trial Nov. 26.

The case has triggered a storm of protest from animal rights activists, who packed the streets of Richmond for Vick's only court appearance.

The NFL is considering disciplinary action against Vick, which likely will be determined, a source said, after he meets with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Last month, Goodell ordered Vick not to report to the Falcons' training camp and announced that Vick's playing status would be determined by a review being conducted by Washington lawyer Eric H. Holder Jr. Vick also may have violated the league's gambling policy by placing bets of thousands of dollars on the dogfights, according to the federal indictment.

In a statement yesterday, the NFL said the league is aware of Vick's decision "to accept responsibility for his conduct. We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons."

The Falcons issued a statement saying they were "certainly troubled" by Vick's agreement to plead guilty but would not comment further until the details of Vick's plea deal were announced and the NFL completed its review. Falcons officials have not ruled out releasing Vick, and some in the league wonder whether he ever will play another NFL game

The NFL's personal conduct policy empowers Goodell to fine, suspend or impose a lifetime ban on an offending player.

Prosecutors had said they would seek a new indictment with further charges against Vick by the end of the month. A guilty plea would head off those charges.

One of Vick's co-defendants, Taylor, pleaded guilty last month, signing a statement that said Vick funded the operations of the "Bad Newz Kennels," the name of the dogfighting operation allegedly based at Vick's home in Smithfield, Va., and its gambling efforts almost exclusively. Two more co-defendants, Peace and Phillips, pleaded guilty Friday, and Phillips signed a statement saying that Vick participated in the killings of at least eight dogs, some by hanging and drowning.

Vick, who played college football for Virginia Tech, was the top overall selection in the 2001 NFL draft and signed a 10-year, $130 million contract extension with the Falcons in 2004. That deal contained $37 million in bonuses, a portion of which the Falcons now might try to force Vick to return.

Vick also has lost income from several endorsement contracts. Nike suspended his contract without pay. AirTran Airways declined to renew his endorsement deal and Reebok, which has a contract with the NFL, stopped sales of his No. 7 jersey.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company