Former NFL star Michael Vick pleaded guilty Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2008, to a state dogfighting charge, a move that could make him eligible to leave prison early and potentially speed up a return to pro football.
Vick already is serving a 23-month sentence in Leavenworth, Kan. for bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in eastern Virginia's rural Surry County, southeast of Richmond. He also admitted to participating in the killing of several underperforming dogs.
He's scheduled for release on July 20, 2009, and will serve three years of probation. The latest plea is important because it resolves the remaining charges against him, which is required under federal law if he is to move into a halfway house. He received a three-year suspended sentence Tuesday.
Vick was expressionless for most of the hearing, but did offer an apology.
"I want to apologize to the court, my family, and to all the kids who looked up to me as a role model," Vick told the judge.
Since his conviction, he has landed in bankruptcy court after losing nearly all of his record-breaking $130 million from a 10-year deal he signed with Atlanta in December 2004.
Surry County Circuit Judge Samuel Campbell did not allow Vick to make his plea by videoconference, saying intense public interest made his appearance necessary.
Under the plea deal, Vick agreed to plead guilty to one count of promoting dogfighting and not guilty to a count that involved cruelty to animals. Each state felony count was punishable by up to five years in prison.
Vick was originally named in an indictment handed down Tuesday, July 17, 2007, by a federal grand jury, charged with sponsoring a dogfighting operation so grisly the losers either died in the pit or sometimes were electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot.
Vick later pleaded guilty to the federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, putting the Falcons quarterback's career in jeopardy and leaving him subject to a prison term.
Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison Monday, Dec. 10, 2007, for his role in the dogfighting conspiracy that involved gambling and killing pit bulls that did not perform up to expectations.
In plea agreement filings, Vick acknowledged that he did, indeed, bankroll gambling on dogfighting and helped kill some dogs not worthy of the pit. Vick, however, insisted he placed no bets of his own nor took any winnings.
The court documents and a statement by Vick's legal team sought to portray him as less involved in the dogfighting ring than three co-defendants who previously pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against the Atlanta Falcons quarterback.
Vick formally entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson Monday, Aug. 27.
Hours after the plea paperwork was filed, the NFL indefinitely suspended Michael Vick without pay.
In disciplining Vick, commissioner Roger Goodell said Vick's admitted conduct was "not only illegal but also cruel and reprehensible" and regardless whether he personally placed bets, "your actions in funding the betting and your association with illegal gambling both violate the terms of your NFL player contract and expose you to corrupting influences in derogation of one of the most fundamental responsibilities of an NFL player."