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Vick begins prison term

Falcons turns self in before sentencing

POSTED: November 24, 2007 5:21 a.m.

RICHMOND, Va. — Michael Vick got a head start on a possible long prison stretch Monday, surrendering three weeks before he was to be sentenced for his involvement in a bloody dogfighting ring.

The disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback surrendered to U.S. marshals in what his lawyer said was another step in his public repentance.

"From the beginning, Mr. Vick has accepted responsibility for his actions, and his self-surrender further demonstrates that acceptance," attorney Billy Martin said in a statement. "Michael wants to again apologize to everyone who has been hurt in this matter, and he thanks all of the people who have offered him and his family prayers and support during this time."

Vick pleaded guilty in August to a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge after his three co-defendants pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with authorities.

He's scheduled to be sentenced Dec. 10 on a federal dogfighting conspiracy charge but worked out a deal "to voluntarily enter custody prior to his sentencing hearing," according to a court document.

The federal sentencing guideline range is projected at a year to 18 months, but Vick, who has admitted bankrolling the Bad Newz Kennels, could be sentenced to up to five years in prison.

In an e-mail sent to the AP, the U.S. attorney's office confirmed Vick's surrender but declined further comment.

Whether the unexpected move will lighten Vick's sentence is unclear, said Ronald Bacigal, a University of Richmond law professor who specializes in criminal law and criminal procedure.

"It's kind of like reading tea leaves knowing what's the exact impact on the judge," Bacigal said. "I don't think there's any benefits except getting (the sentence) started. I would think he's purely thinking about timing as far as when he can get back to his football."

Vick has a lot to overcome.

His troubles began in April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of a Vick cousin seized dozens of dogs, most of them pit bulls, from a Surry County property, along with equipment linked to dogfighting.

It's there that the dogfighting enterprise known as Bad Newz Kennels operated since 2001 on 15 acres of land Vick owned.

Suspended indefinitely by the NFL without pay, Vick solemnly apologized for his actions before cameras in late August — only to gain more negative attention when he tested positive in September for marijuana, a violation of U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson's order that Vick stay clean in exchange for being allowed to be free.

Financial troubles have further sullied Vick's image: He's being sued for more than $4 million by banks claiming he defaulted on loans and might have to repay nearly $20 million in NFL signing bonus money.

The gruesome details outlined in the federal indictment — dogs were hanged, drowned and electrocuted — fueled a public backlash against the Falcons star and cost him several lucrative endorsement deals, even before he agreed to plead guilty.

In his written plea, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings, but merely associating with gambling can result in a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Vick and his co-defendants also face state felony charges. Vick has been charged with two state felony counts — beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Vick is being held at Northern Neck Regional Jail in Warsaw until his sentencing, U.S. marshals told The Associated Press. The mixed-gender facility houses about 450 inmates.


The order added that Vick was taken into custody "based solely on his desire to begin his period of incarceration prior to his sentencing hearing and not because of violation of any condition of his bond."

In an e-mail sent to the AP, the U.S. attorney's office confirmed Vick's surrender but declined further comment.
Vick's decision to begin serving time before sentencing was approved by the judge and Vick's lawyers.

Ronald Bacigal, a University of Richmond law professor who specializes in criminal law and criminal procedure, said there are no real direct legal benefits to Vick's decision to turn himself in prior to sentencing.

"I don't think there's any benefits except getting it (the sentence) started," Bacigal said. "I would think he's purely thinking about timing as far as when he can get back to his football."

Vick also could be trying to show the judge he is accepting responsibility for his actions in the hopes of receiving a lighter sentence, Bacigal said.

"One of the things the judge is liable to consider is admitting fault," Bacigal said.

But whether that will work is anyone's guess.

"It's kind of like reading tea leaves knowing what's the exact impact on the judge," Bacigal said.

The federal dogfighting case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the property Vick owns in Surry County and seized dozens of dogs, most of them pit bulls, and equipment associated with dogfighting.

It's there that the dogfighting enterprise known as Bad Newz Kennels operated since 2001 on 15 acres of land Vick owned.

Vick initially denied any knowledge of the enterprise, then pledged after he was charged that he would fight to clear his name. After his three co-defendants pleaded guilty, Vick followed suit.

The gruesome details outlined in the federal indictment — dogs were hanged, drowned and electrocuted — fueled a public backlash against the Falcons star and cost him several lucrative endorsement deals, even before he agreed to plead guilty to the dogfighting conspiracy charge.

In his written plea, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings, but merely associating with gambling can result in a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Vick and his co-defendants also face state felony dogfighting charges. Vick has been charged with two state felony counts — beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison.

Suspended indefinitely by the NFL without pay, Vick was unable to stay out of trouble. He tested positive in September for marijuana, a violation of U.S. District Court Judge Henry Hudson's order that he stay clean in exchange for being allowed to be free.

After that positive test, Hudson ordered Vick confined to his home address between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., with electronic monitoring and random drug testing.


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