<
>

Grim details emerge as Vick's co-defendants plead guilty

RICHMOND, Va. -- Two of Michael Vick's alleged cohorts in a
grisly dogfighting case pleaded guilty Friday, and one said the
Atlanta Falcons quarterback joined them in drowning and hanging
dogs that underperformed.

With his NFL career in jeopardy and a superseding indictment in
the works to add more charges, Vick and his lawyers have been
talking with federal prosecutors about a possible plea agreement.

Atlanta owner Arthur Blank told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio on Friday night that he expected Vick to submit his plea deal before the end of the day.


Blank also accused Vick of lying to him and the NFL after hearing of Friday's statements from Vick's co-defendants.


"What's suggested in those statements of fact don't match up
with what the league was told, even our organization and certainly
not what was said to the commissioner," Blank told The Associated
Press before Atlanta's preseason game against Buffalo.

A report in The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk said federal prosecutors had offered Vick a plea deal that would recommend he serve at least one year in prison on a felony dogfighting conspiracy charge, while a story in The New York Times said the lawyers for the Falcons' quarterback were advising him to accept a deal.

Now that all three co-defendants have entered plea bargains,
Vick is on his own to cut a deal or face trial on federal charges.

The court docket did not list any appearance for Vick. One of
his lawyers, Lawrence Woodward, attended Friday's hearings and
declined to answer questions as he left the courthouse.

Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach and Quanis Phillips, 28, of
Atlanta entered plea agreements and joined defendant Tony Taylor of
Hampton, who struck a similar deal last month. The agreements
require the three to cooperate in the government's case against
Vick.
Sentencing is scheduled for Peace and Phillips on Nov. 30 and
Taylor on Dec. 14. Vick has been barred from training camp by the
NFL and is to go on trial Nov. 26.

A statement signed by Phillips as part of his plea agreement
said Vick participated in the execution of about eight dogs, some
by drowning and hanging.

"Phillips agrees and stipulates that these dogs all died as a
result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips and Vick," the
statement said.

ESPN's Kelly Naqi has learned from multiple sources that Vick, Peace and Phillips initially hanged all of the dogs in the woods behind Vick's house but at least three dogs survived the hanging attempt. Subsequently, Vick, Peace and Phillips submerged the surviving dogs' heads in five gallon buckets filled with water until they drowned.

Phillips and Peace also backed Taylor's assertion that Vick was
involved in gambling.

"The 'Bad Newz Kennels' operation and gambling monies were
almost exclusively funded by Vick," statements by the two men say.

Peace and Phillips were charged with conspiracy to travel in
interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to
sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture.

"Did you conspire with these folks to sponsor a dogfighting
venture?" U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson asked Peace.

He replied, "Yes, sir."

The offenses are punishable by up to five years in prison and a
$250,000 fine, but the exact sentence will be based largely on
federal sentencing guidelines. Hudson told Peace and Phillips that
certain elements of their offenses will increase their sentencing
ranges.

"There are aggravating circumstances in this case, there's no
doubt about it," he told Phillips.

While Peace was freed, Hudson found that Phillips violated terms
of his release by failing a drug test and ordered him jailed.
Phillips also is on probation for a drug conviction in Atlanta, and
the guilty plea could mean more jail time in that case, Hudson
said.

Any outcome that ties Vick to betting on the dogfights could
trigger a lifetime ban from the NFL under the league's personal
conduct policy.

The 27-year-old quarterback was linked to betting by a statement
signed by Taylor, who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with
the government, and the July 17 indictment.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell withheld further action while the
NFL conducts its own investigation. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said
the league had no comment on the latest pleas.

About 30 animal-rights activists gathered outside the courtroom.
Afterward, as police officers cleared the scene, protesters
continued waving large pictures of a mutilated dog.

"This is one dogfighting ring that's been annihilated," said
John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United
States.

The four defendants all initially pleaded not guilty, and Vick
issued a statement saying he looked forward to clearing his name.

A statement of facts signed by Taylor as part of his plea
agreement placed Vick at the scene of several dogfights and linked
him to betting. Taylor said Vick financed virtually all the "Bad
Newz Kennels" operation on Vick's property in Surry County.

"This is one dogfighting ring that's been annihilated," said
John Goodwin, a spokesman for the Humane Society of the United
States.

The case began with a search in April that turned up dozens of
pit bulls and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia at the
property, a few miles from Vick's hometown of Newport News.
According to the indictment, dogs that lost fights or fared poorly
in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging, electrocution or
other means.