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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)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely just before he entered his guilty plea in August. The league has not said how it will determine the final length of Vick's suspension.

Vick and his co-defendants -- Tony Taylor, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips -- each pleaded guilty to a single conspiracy count for operating Bad Newz Kennels, the dogfighting venture they started in 2001 in Surry County. In court papers, Vick admitted that he agreed to the killing of six to eight dogs through the "collective efforts" of him and his co-conspirators, but he did not admit in those papers to actually participating in the killings.

For months, Vick stuck to that story, according to court testimony Monday, denying in several sessions with FBI agents that he had personally killed dogs, even though several of his co-defendants had said otherwise. In October, prosecutors told Vick that they didn't believe him, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Gill said in court Monday.

On Oct. 12, FBI agents administered a polygraph test during which Vick initially stuck to his denials but "finally admitted" that he and Phillips had hanged two dogs, Gill said. "I carried the dogs over to Phillips, Phillips tied a rope around their necks and I dropped the dogs," Gill quoted Vick as telling the agents.

Vick's attorney, William R. "Billy" Martin, cast Vick's admissions during the five-hour FBI interrogation in a different light. "I think, Judge, that at that point, Michael sort of broke down," he said in court. "He simply said, 'I did it all; I did everything.' I think the frustration Mr. Vick expressed was, 'What do I have to do? If you need me to say more, I'll say more.' " By Martin's account, Vick knew the two dogs were going to be killed because they had performed poorly in the fights. "Mr. Vick went over and got a dog, brought a dog to Mr. Phillips, handed the dog to Mr. Phillips and that was when the dog was killed."

An attorney for Phillips, who was sentenced to 21 months in prison, did not return calls.

Hudson said Vick's lack of candor -- about the executions of the dogs and the date on which he smoked marijuana after his guilty plea -- led a probation officer to recommend a sentence of 18 to 24 months in prison, up from a previous 12- to 18-month recommendation. On Monday, prosecutors urged a sentence at the high end of that range, while defense attorneys urged a term at the lower end.

Linda Malone, a law professor at the College of William and Mary who has followed the case, said Vick got the tougher sentence because prosecutors and the judge felt Vick didn't live up to the terms of his plea agreement. "They obviously didn't feel that he was fully forthcoming and cooperative," she said.

After Monday's hearing, Martin said Vick accepted the sentence. "If Michael Vick gets another chance, either in society or in the NFL, he will take advantage of it," Martin said.

Vick still faces state charges in Virginia.

U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said the case had "exposed a seamy side of our society," and he trusts that Vick "learned important lessons and that his admission of guilt will speed his rehabilitation."

Maske reported from Washington.

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