Vick gets 23 months

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 14, 2007

RICHMOND, Va. — Michael Vick’s outlook changed as the dogfighting case against him grew, going from disbelief that he could be hurt to depression at what he’d lost.

Vick broke down when an FBI agent suggested he was lying on a polygraph test about his role in the killing of dogs, ultimately admitting to full involvement in the hope of showing he had accepted responsibility for his actions, lawyer Billy Martin said in court. He sought the numbing comfort of marijuana to cope with his depression.

As Vick awaited his federal sentencing, already having relinquished his lucrative standing as one of the NFL’s most popular stars, he shared another emotion: relief.

Email newsletter signup

‘‘He understood that some of the things he was doing in life and off the field were dangerous,’’ longtime family attorney Lawrence Woodward said outside the courthouse where Vick was sentenced Monday to 23 months in prison, ‘‘and he told me he feels lucky that he’s alive and not hurt and now it’s all about the future.’’

At least until the summer of 2009, that future will be in a federal prison, most likely a camp-style facility with dormitories and jobs instead of barbed-wire fences and cells.

‘‘He doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for him,’’ Woodward said, sharing a message at Vick’s request. ‘‘He just wants a chance to prove himself when all this is over.’’

The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback, who turned himself in Nov. 19 to begin serving his sentence, wore a black-and-white striped prison suit as he stood before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. He acknowledged using ‘‘poor judgment’’ and added, ‘‘I’m willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions.’’

Vick also apologized to the court and his family, drawing a rebuke from Hudson: ‘‘You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you,’’ he said.

‘‘Yes, sir,’’ Vick answered.

Hudson then rebuffed the defense team’s appeals for leniency, determining Vick had lied about his involvement in the killing of dogs, and about his drug use. Vick tested positive for marijuana Sept. 13 after claiming to have avoided illicit drugs.

‘‘You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity,’’ Hudson told Vick, who exhibited no visible reaction.

The sentence means Vick will be in prison until at least mid-July 2009, even if he meets the federal standard of 54 days’ reduction per year for good behavior.

Vick, whose $130 million contract was once the richest in NFL history, was suspended without pay by the NFL and lost all his lucrative endorsement deals. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked after the sentencing if Vick should play again.

‘‘That’s a determination we’ll make later on,’’ he told The Associated Press from a legislative hearing in Austin, Texas. ‘‘As I said earlier when we suspended him indefinitely, we would evaluate that when the legal process was closed.’’

Hudson also ordered Vick to three years of supervised probation upon his release, enrollment in a substance abuse program if his parole officer deems it necessary, reminded him that felons can’t own guns and said he can never again own a dog.

Throughout the 45-minute hearing, Vick’s brother, Marcus, sat with his arm around their mother, Brenda Boddie, comforting her as she covered her eyes and wept.

Much of what she heard could not have made her feel any better.

Hudson agreed with a federal probation officer’s finding that Vick had lied about his hands-on killing of dogs, calling honesty ‘‘really the crux of the matter here.’’

‘‘You were a full participant and you were at least equally culpable’’ as the three other defendants, the judge told Vick in summing up his own findings. ‘‘This is a racketeering case in front of me and you are to be sentenced accordingly.’’

Hudson said Vick at times admitted killing dogs, and other times denied it.

‘‘I’m not convinced you’ve fully accepted responsibility,’’ Hudson said.

Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to two years. Federal prosecutor Michael Gill said Vick’s involvement warranted a sentence at the high end.

‘‘He did more than fund it,’’ Gill said, referring to the ‘‘Bad Newz Kennels’’ dogfighting operation. ‘‘He was in this thing up to his neck with the other defendants.’’

Vick pleaded guilty in August, admitting he bankrolled the dogfighting operation on his 15-acre property in rural Virginia and helped kill six to eight pit bulls that did not perform well in test fights. He also admitted providing money for bets on the fights by his co-defendants, but said he never shared in any winnings.

After making his plea, Vick apologized to the NFL, the Falcons and youngsters who viewed him as a role model and vowed: ‘‘I will redeem myself. I have to.’’

Court papers revealed gruesome details about the operation, including the execution of underperforming dogs by electrocution, drowning, hanging and other means. Those details prompted a public backlash against the NFL star and outraged animal-rights groups, which used the case to call attention to the brutality of dogfighting.

John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States called the sentence appropriate and said the benefits of the exposure the case has received continue.

‘‘People that are involved in this blood sport are on notice. You can throw your life away by being involved in this,’’ he said. ‘‘His future is in his hands.’’

Co-defendants Purnell Peace, of Virginia Beach, got 18 months, and Quantis Phillips, of Atlanta, got 21 months at their sentencing hearings on Nov. 30.

Another co-defendant, Tony Taylor, will be sentenced Friday.

The case began in April when a drug investigation of Vick’s cousin led authorities to the former Virginia Tech star’s Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls — some of them injured — and equipment associated with dogfighting.

Vick initially denied any knowledge about dogfighting on the property. He changed his story after the co-defendants pleaded guilty and detailed Vick’s involvement.


Associated Press writers Larry O’Dell and Zinie Chen Sampson in Richmond and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.