RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick pleaded guilty to a federal dogfighting charge and awaited a sentencing date that could send the star NFL quarterback to prison.
Vick, who is suspended indefinitely by the NFL, entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson.
His NFL career already in tatters, Vick must now wait to find out the full impact of his legal troubles.
The suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback arrived at the federal courthouse in a sport utility vehicle Monday and walked into court flanked by his attorneys. His supporters erupted in a roaring cheer drowning out his opponents, silently holding signs.
Capping one of the most rapid and startling falls from stardom in U.S. sports history, Vick will make official the agreement his attorneys worked out with prosecutors.
In his written plea filed in federal court Friday, 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.
The plea agreement calls for a sentencing range of 12 to 18 months. But Hudson, who is known for handing down tough sentences, is not bound by any recommendation or federal sentencing guidelines and could sentence Vick to as much as five years in prison.
The NFL suspended him indefinitely and without pay Friday after his plea agreement was filed. Merely associating with gamblers can trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.
The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's rural Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.
A federal indictment issued in July charged Vick, Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Tony Taylor of Hampton with an interstate dogfighting conspiracy. Vick initially denied any involvement, and all four men pleaded innocent. Taylor was the first to change his plea to guilty; Phillips and Peace soon followed.
The details outlined in the indictment and other court papers fueled a public backlash against Vick and cost him several lucrative endorsement deals, even before he agreed to plead guilty.
In announcing the suspension, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell opened the way for the Falcons to attempt to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.
Vick's plea will come hours before the Falcons play an exhibition game at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. This will be the first chance for the team to see what effect Vick's case has on attendance at the Georgia Dome. Vick wears the biggest-selling jersey in team history and is given much credit for the team's 51 consecutive sellouts.
After initially denying his involvement, Vick has said little publicly about the case. Privately, he met with Goodell and Falcons owner Arthur Blank when the investigation was just beginning, and almost certainly lied to both.
Vick's defense attorney, Billy Martin, has said Vick will "explain his actions" publicly, but did not say when. The "Tom Joyner Morning Show," a syndicated program based in Dallas, said it will have a live interview with Vick on Tuesday, and he will take questions from callers.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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