Two more plea deals spell serious trouble for Vick
Two of Michael Vick's co-defendants in a massive dogfighting conspiracy indictment have indicated they will plead guilty and might testify against Vick in a trial that begins Nov. 26 in Richmond, Va. Purnell Peace, 35, and Quanis Phillips, 28, will appear before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson later this week to admit their participation in a scheme of breeding, training, fighting and executing pit bull terriers that went on for six years in five states. Their actions raise a number of questions for Vick, who is considering his own plea. Here are some of the questions and the answers:
What do these anticipated guilty pleas mean for Vick?
These developments are terrible news for Vick. He already was caught in a bad situation with five witnesses ready to testify against him. The five included four who cooperated early with the government and helped federal prosecutors with the devastating details in the 18-page indictment. Then, two weeks ago, Tony Taylor, another of Vick's co-defendants, agreed to admit guilt and testify against Vick. Taylor, according to the indictment, worked with Vick to establish the dogfighting operation less than eight weeks after Vick signed his first NFL contract. Adding Peace and Phillips to these five witnesses leaves Vick in a legal checkmate. He is surrounded by hostile forces. There might be no escape from the brutal charges against him. Peace and Phillips are mentioned a total of 94 times in the indictment. Their testimony puts Vick in the middle of the scheme from its beginning in June 2001 until it ended with a police raid this past April.
With seven witnesses lined up against him, what should Vick do?
Vick should be assessing the same realities that led Peace and Phillips to plead guilty. Sources have told ESPN that Vick is deciding whether to consider the possibility of a prison sentence of less than one year. Government prosecutors want a prison sentence of more than one year, according to ESPN sources, and Vick's lawyers have suggested to him that he seriously consider a prison sentence of less than one year. Vick has a difficult decision to make. Unless he is caught in some level of denial or delusion, Vick must be looking hard at the idea of admitting guilt and considering an outcome that would allow him to preserve some fraction of his career in the NFL. Vick has the money and the lawyers to put up a powerful fight, but they are up against a massive and impressive investigation as well as the seven witnesses. Billy Martin, Vick's lead lawyer, has done wonders in a courtroom, but the government's case against Vick provides scant opportunity for creating the kind of "reasonable doubt" that can lead to a not guilty verdict. A jury likely would be outraged by the brutality of the evidence and impressed with its substance and its gravity. It would not be a big surprise if Vick enters a guilty plea within the next several days.
Why would Vick's friends and cohorts in the alleged dogfighting enterprise decide to admit their guilt?
It must have been difficult for Peace and Phillips to decide to admit their culpability and agree to testify against Vick. It was Vick's name and money that made the alleged operation possible. Peace and Phillips are high school dropouts who, according to the indictment, performed various chores for Bad Newz Kennels for six years, enjoying the excitement of the dark side of celebrity. Without Vick, none of it would have been possible. Both must have felt they owed Vick something, but both decided to help themselves even if it meant hurting Vick. Their decisions will allow them to avoid the cost and the agony of a trial and reduce their possible time in prison. Their decisions were based on difficult realities. If the case goes to trial, the prosecutors will suggest that their decisions were painful acts of integrity that will help eradicate dogfighting in America.
What will happen now to Peace and Phillips?
When they appear in court in Richmond later this week, Peace and Phillips will present signed plea agreements to Hudson. They will promise to tell the entire truth about the alleged dogfighting operation to agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and federal prosecutors. In return, they will claim they are entitled to leniency in the sentences that result from their admissions. Both have prior criminal convictions and face serious prison time under federal sentencing guidelines. If they help the government and are not caught in any lies, they can expect their prison time to be cut in half.
What's next? Can it get any worse for Vick?
Yes, it could get worse in a hurry. The federal prosecutors in Richmond are preparing a new set of charges, known in legal terms as a superseding indictment. The new charges could come any day. The new charges might include a racketeering allegation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (known as RICO). RICO originally was designed as a weapon against organized-crime hoodlums but has been used frequently in other prosecutions. A charge under RICO would make Vick's situation significantly worse. It would make the government's case against him easier to prove, and it would increase the prison sentence Vick would face if convicted.
Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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VICK SENTENCED TO 23 MONTHS
Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison and three years' probation for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy. The suspended Falcons quarterback is looking at a scheduled release of July 2009. Story
Update• GM: Falcons will attempt to trade Vick
• Lawyer: Vick might move to halfway house
• Former Vick estate fails to sell again
• Vick house fails to sell at auction
• Vick files for bankruptcy protection
• Prosecutor: Vick's Virginia trial can wait
• Vick ordered to repay Canadian bank $2.4 million
• Judge denies NFL motion to reverse Vick ruling
• Report: Vick not playing organized football in jail
• Report: Vick passes time with prison-yard football
• Vick's state dogfighting trial to begin June 27
• Munson: Vick yet to enter drug treatment
The sentence• Vick sent to Kansas to serve rest of sentence
• Vick asked judge for leniency before sentencing
• Vick sentenced to 23 months | Document (pdf)
• Poll: What do you think? | What they're saying
• Clayton: Sentence puts career in jeopardy
• Munson: Tough sentence by displeased judge
• Teammates show support at Falcons game
• Can Vick return to playing in NFL?
• Pasquarelli: No longer top of mind in Atlanta
• Last Vick co-defendant sentenced
• Podcasts : Cossack | Schlereth | Munson/Naqi | Pasquarelli
• Chat wrap: David Cornwell
Post Plea• NFL wants court to reverse Vick bonus ruling
• Victory for Vick: QB can keep $20 million bonus
• Fifth defendant in Vick case receives probation
• Vick's house for sale for $1.1M
• Some Falcons to visit Vick in prison
• PETA unveils new e-card
• Former Virginia estate fails to sell at auction
• Out of Falcons' sight, almost out of mind
• Judge's casework offers look at possible sentence
• Remaining dogs placed with rescue groups
• Source: Feds may push judge to up sentence
• NFLPA argues Vick should not lose roster bonus
• Vick co-defendants get 18, 21 months in prison
• Vick agrees to put up almost $1M for dogs' care
• Vick given April trial date on state charges
• Vick surrenders to begin serving sentence early
• Home at center of Vick dogfighting scandal sold
• Vick fires one of his lawyers in dogfighting case
• Man who sold Vick pit bull pleads guilty
• Man connected to Vick dogfight ring pleads guilty
• Third bank sues Vick, claims he defaulted on loan
• Arbiter: Falcons have right to reclaim bonuses
• PETA: Vick had class on animal cruelty
• Evaluations show 48 of Vick's dogs placeable
• Vick tests positive for marijuana
• Vick supporters turn out for town meeting
• Vick's apology notes fetch $10.2K at auction
Vick's Plea/NFL Suspension• Vick pleads guilty to federal dogfighting charge
• The plea (PDF) | Statement of facts (PDF)
• Vick's statement: Watch it | Read it
• Roger Cossack explains plea deal
• Poll: Vick should be banned
• Va. Tech, Beamer continue to support Vick
• Vick supporters drown out protesters
• NFL suspends Vick indefinitely | Goodell (PDF)
• Chris Mortensen on Vick's suspension
• Vick files plea agreement admitting to dogfighting
Indictment• Marbury's about-face: Vick 'is 100 percent wrong'
• National NAACP: Vick 'not a victim' | Audio
• Atlanta NAACP: Vick should be allowed to return
• Falcons come to terms with 'ex-teammate'
• Vick timeline | What they're saying
• Helyar: Even Atlanta turns against Vick
• Goodell: Vick not overshadowing season
• Vick co-defendant pleads guilty to charges
• Tony Taylor: Summary of Facts | Plea agreement
• Hometown residents stand by Vick
• Falcons had planned to suspend Vick
• Commish tells Vick to avoid camp
• Vick indicted | The indictment (pdf) | Civil arrest warrant (pdf)
Town Hall meeting• Town Hall chat wrap: Chadiha
Previous columns/analysis• Munson: Q&A on Vick reporting to prison early
• Munson: Looking at Judge Hudson
• Vick's high school learning lessons
• Bryant: Confounded by race issue
• Munson: Q&A about local indictment
• Munson: Next focus for Vick is length of sentence
• Schlabach: Vick an afterthought on VT campus
• Chadiha: Vick not running from truth
• Hill: Coverage means bigger issues ignored
• Wojciechowski: Pay attention to the fallen star
• Bryant: Vick's plea deal comes with baggage
• Bryant: In failing Vick, NFLPA fails itself
• Munson: Vick plea means surrender
• Forde: Vick's epic fall
• Pasquarelli: Major blow for Falcons
• Chadiha: Lots of lessons to be learned
• Wojciechowski: Punishment with teeth
• Easterbrook: Little sympathy?
• Clayton: Vick's NFL future might be bleak
• E-Ticket: A history of mistrust
• Chadiha: Vick's bad choices