Two of Michael Vick's alleged cohorts in a dogfighting enterprise entered guilty pleas Friday, one of whom said the star NFL quarterback participated in the execution of dogs.
The guilty pleas leaves the Atlanta Falcons quarterback on his own to cut a deal or face trial on federal charges.
Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach and Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta entered plea agreements and joined another defendant who previously changed his plea to guilty. The agreements require the three to cooperate in the government's case against Vick.
A statement signed by Peace 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.
With his NFL career in jeopardy and a superseding indictment adding more charges in the works, Vick and his lawyers have been talking with federal prosecutors about a possible plea agreement.
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.
Sentencing for the two alleged cohorts was scheduled for Nov. 30. Vick has been barred from training camp by the NFL and is to go on trial Nov. 26.
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. Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty last month and will be sentenced Dec. 14. Vick faces the same charges.
"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.
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.