Vick Gets 23 Months for Dogfighting

William R.
William R. "Billy" Martin, attorney for suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, speaks to reporters outside the courthouse, where both protesters and supporters had gathered. (By Carol Guzy -- The Washington Post)
By Jerry Markon and Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 11, 2007

RICHMOND, Dec. 10 -- Suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced Monday to a tougher-than-expected 23-month prison term after prosecutors revealed that he admitted to hanging two dogs as part of an illegal dogfighting ring.

Vick, 27, had denied for months that he was personally involved in the killing of the animals, and his conflicting statements were a factor in the more severe sentence.

U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he was concerned about Vick's lack of candor about his role in executing the dogs and also about his smoking marijuana. Prosecutors said Vick had violated the terms of his plea agreement by failing to be truthful and should receive a longer sentence than the 12 to 18 months they had originally recommended.

Hudson agreed. Although he praised Vick's community service and said he had received numerous letters on the quarterback's behalf -- including from boxer George Foreman and baseball slugger Hank Aaron -- Hudson said Vick had not been forthcoming with the government and was "instrumental" in the dogfighting ring based on his property in southeastern Virginia.

"You were a full participant, and you were at least equally culpable with every other man sentenced in this case," Hudson told Vick.

Moments earlier, Vick apologized to the judge, his family and his children. "I made some bad judgments along the way," he told the court. "I hope that one day when this is all over that I can show everybody that Michael Vick is not the person you see or hear about in the media."

The judge responded: "I think you should have apologized also to the millions of young people who look up to you."

The federal court hearing, which ended a case that caused the fall from grace of a star athlete in his prime, was more subdued than Vick's earlier court appearances. Fewer than 50 animal rights activists waited across the street from the courthouse, quietly holding signs. Vick, wearing a black and white prison jumpsuit because he voluntarily began serving his expected time several weeks ago, spoke in a barely audible voice and held his head in his hands after the hearing.

Although the sentencing might have ended the federal proceedings, it left uncertain whether Vick will return to the NFL. He has missed this season and will now be out all of next season. His federal sentence could stretch until October 2009.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank, in a taped interview shown on the team's Web site, said he would "never use the word 'never.' I would say there's always a chance." But Blank added: "Quite candidly, we as an organization, as a football team, have to look forward. . . . We have to assume Michael's not going to be back [and] going to be out of football for three full years."

Around the NFL Monday, opinion about Vick's return was split. One official with another team said: "He's going to be, what, 29 or 30 and out of the league for two or three years by then. Life goes on. I just don't see him playing again."

But another team official said: "He's a unique talent. If the public forgives and forgets, some team will give him a chance to show what he can do." Both team officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of Vick's situation.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company