Pleading Guilty, Then Making A Plea
RICHMOND Ookie was gone. The alter ego of Bad Newz Kennels, the brutal benefactor who perpetrated animal cruelty, disappeared before a phalanx of cameras and microphones. On the day he pleaded guilty to a dogfighting conspiracy charge, an ashen-faced Michael Vick, his eyes moist, stood before a no-nonsense judge in a mahogany-walled Virginia courtroom.
"Guilty," he said, solemnly.
The cocksure, blinging Pro Bowler who once boasted of his impending exoneration was nowhere to be found. Along with the diamond-stud earrings. The scully. The cornrows. Any hip-hop affectation was abandoned for a blue suit, matching patent-leather shoes, a white shirt and a patterned tie.
Beneath the goatee and the Italian wool now was a 27-year-old defendant in Case No. 00274, who humbly answered, "Yes, sir" and wiped away a tear when he saw his fiancee openly weeping. He then moved from the courtroom to a podium in a hotel, speaking so softly you could barely hear his voice amid the camera shutters.
"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player," he said. "Dogfighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it."
Ookie, the nickname his co-conspirators called him, was gone. The rehabilitation tour had begun.
Walking across 1000 East Main St. here, between the chanting and the jeering, Michael Vick's contrition became just part of a surreal afternoon. It was a day in which supporters sparred verbally with protesters in a racially tinged standoff, one that that grew uglier after the courtroom appearance.
Everybody chose sides in a sordid case dividing even households.
"I'm not here to support Vick," said Sheila Dodson, whose husband, Shawn, wore a white No. 7 Atlanta Falcons jersey into the courtroom. "I'm a hell of a dog lover. Whoever did this to those dogs should be punished severely. I'm here to support my husband, but I don't agree with how he feels. What Michael Vick did was wrong."
A man of maybe 50 held up a sign directed at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: "People Evilly Treating Africans," it read.
PETA protesters jeered Vick a few feet away. They held up stomach-turning placards with enlarged photos of a disfigured and bloodied pit bull.
Shawn Dodson, a cook from Lynchburg, asked if he thought Jeffrey Dahmer was less reviled than the quarterback he had come to support. He could not get an answer.