RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick was sentenced to prison Monday
for running a dogfighting operation and will stay there longer than
two co-defendants, up to 23 months, because he lied about his
involvement when he was supposed to be coming clean to the judge
who would decide his fate.
The disgraced NFL star received a harsher sentence than the
others in the federal conspiracy case because of "less than
truthful" statements about killing pit bulls.
Vick said he accepted responsibility for his actions, but U.S.
District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he wasn't so sure.
"I'm not convinced you've fully accepted responsibility,"
Hudson told Vick, who arrived in court wearing the black-and-white
striped prison uniform he was issued when he voluntarily
surrendered Nov. 19 to begin serving his sentence early.
Despite the early surrender, a public apology and participation
in an animal sensitivity training course, Vick was denied an
"acceptance of responsibility" credit that would have reduced his
sentence. Federal prosecutors opposed awarding Vick the credit.
Dogs that did not perform up to expectations were killed by
electrocution, hanging, drowning and other violent means by the
dogfighting ring. Hudson said evidence, including statements by the
co-defendants, showed Vick was more directly involved than he
admitted. Hudson also mentioned that Vick had been deceptive on a
polygraph test. Though that evidence was not admissible in court,
the results were discussed.
"He did more than fund it," prosecutor Michael Gill said,
referring to the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting operation. "He
was in this thing up to his neck with the other defendants."
The judge agreed.
"You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating
this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," he said.
Flanked by two defense attorneys, Vick spoke softly as he
acknowledged using "poor judgment" and added, "I'm willing to
deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my
Vick apologized to the court and his family members, who along
with other supporters occupied most of two rows in the packed
courtroom. Before the hearing started, Michael Vick's brother,
Marcus Vick, draped his right arm around their mother and comforted
her as she wept.
"You need to apologize to the millions of young people who
looked up to you," Hudson said sternly, reminding Vick of the fans
he singled out when he pleaded guilty in August.
"Yes, sir," Vick answered.
Although there is no parole in the federal system, with time off
for good behavior Vick could be released in the summer of 2009.
"This was an efficient, professional, and thorough
investigation that well exposed a seamy side of our society," U.S.
Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. "I trust Mr. Vick
learned important lessons and that his admission of guilt will
speed his rehabilitation."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called the sentencing another step in
Vick's "legal journey."
"This is a difficult day for Michael's family and for a lot of
us, including many of our players and fans who have been
emotionally invested in Michael over the years," Blank said. "We
sincerely hope that Michael will use this time to continue to focus
his efforts on making positive changes in his life, and we wish him
well in that regard."
Blank told ESPN's Chris Mortensen he has not shut the door on the possibility Vick could play for the Falcons in the future.
"If the question is whether can I see a set of circumstances in which Michael [comes back to the team], the answer is yes," Blank said. "That being the case, we're moving forward as if he will not be back. I have learned you never say never but we're planning as if he will not be here. We are resolved to get this franchise on the rebound and become one of the most successful in the NFL."
Blank said he spoke with Vick "about six weeks ago," shortly before Vick entered prison to begin serving time.
"He was still remorseful, he felt badly and he told me he loved me," Blank told Mortensen. "I wish him well and I hope he has a positive, productive life ahead of him."
Vick was suspended without pay by the NFL and lost all his
lucrative endorsement deals. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was
asked after Monday's ruling 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,
involving the NFL Network. "As I said earlier when we suspended
him indefinitely, we would evaluate that when the legal process was
On its Web site Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
estimated that Vick has incurred financial losses of $142 million,
including $71 million in Falcons salary, $50 million in endorsement
income and nearly $20 million in previously paid bonuses.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to
two years. While prosecutors asked for a sentence on the high end,
defense attorney Lawrence Woodward asked for leniency, noting his
client's previously clean record despite growing up in a rough area
in Newport News.
But in addition to initially lying about his role in killing
dogs, Vick tested positive for marijuana use in violation of the
terms set for his release -- then gave conflicting accounts about
when he used the drug, Hudson noted.
He also said Vick's conflicting stories about drug use and his
role in killing dogs stemmed from frustration with his
interrogators and a desire to please people by telling them what he
thinks they want to hear.
"We knew this was a statement case so I figured it'd be a statement verdict," Falcons tight end Alge Crumpler told ESPN.
Vick's lead attorney, Billy Martin, said Vick had been diagnosed
as clinically depressed.
"Mr. Vick in life had numbed himself to a lot of events around
him. That was, in a sense, his way of surviving," Martin said.
Outside court, Woodward said Vick didn't want anyone feeling
sorry for him.
"He just wants a chance to prove himself when all this is
over," he said. "But the other thing he said to me, which I also
think is important for everyone to know, is that he understood that
some of the things he was doing in life and off the field were
dangerous, and he told me he feels lucky that he's alive and not
hurt and now it's all about the future."
That future now includes a stay at a still-undetermined federal
prison. He has been held at a jail in Warsaw, Va., since
voluntarily beginning his term.
In a plea agreement, Vick admitted bankrolling the dogfighting
ring on his 15-acre property in rural Virginia. He admitted
providing money for bets on the fights but said he never shared in
The gruesome details about the dogfighting enterprise prompted a
public backlash against the once-popular Vick and enraged
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
Vick's sentence appropriate.
"People that are involved in this blood sport are on notice.
You can throw your life away by being involved in this," he said.
Along with the prison term, Vick was fined $5,000 and will serve
three years' probation after his release.
Two co-defendants were sentenced Nov. 30. Purnell Peace, of
Virginia Beach, got 18 months. Phillips, of Atlanta, got 21 months.
Another co-defendant, Tony Taylor, will be sentenced Friday.
All four men also are facing animal cruelty charges in Surry
County Circuit Court. Trial has been set April 2 for Vick, March 5
for Phillips and Peace, and May 7 for Taylor.
Information from The Associated Press and ESPN NFL reporter Ed Werder was used in this report.