Vick must decide whether to accept plea agreement

Updated: August 16, 2007, 1:29 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

Facing increasing pressure to strike a deal with prosecutors, Atlanta Falcons star Michael Vick conferred with his attorneys for hours Wednesday.

"The defense and Michael are meeting," Collins R. Spencer III, a spokesman for Vick's five lawyers, said Wednesday afternoon.

At least some of the parties were participating by telephone in a meeting that began in late morning and continued well into the afternoon, he said.

"It seems they're going to be talking a while," Spencer said.

Prosecutors were not involved in the meeting, he said.

The conference call came two days after Vick's two remaining co-defendants scheduled plea hearings, presumably agreeing to testify against Vick if his federal dogfighting conspiracy case goes to trial as scheduled Nov. 26.

On Tuesday ESPN learned that lawyers representing Vick were trying to negotiate a plea agreement that would include less than the year of prison time that prosecutors had offered.

A source also said that Vick's attorneys had recommended that the embattled quarterback accept a deal if it includes less than a year of jail time, but he had not decided whether to fight the charges.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen learned on Wednesday that commissioner Roger Goodell refuses to negotiate with Vick representatives regarding a suspension from the league. He is waiting for Vick to appear in court and for the league's investigation to be completed.

Vick may want to know what the league will do if he accepts certain plea agreements; however, the commissioner refuses to tip his hand. The league dismissed an earlier report that the commissioner was planning to suspend Vick for the season this week or next.

Vick's situation became more tenous when two other co-defendants decided to cooperate with the government. Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips are scheduled to appear in federal court in Richmond on Friday to accept plea agreements.

The hearing for Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, Va., had originally been set for 9 a.m. Thursday before U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson. The case has been rescheduled for 9:15 a.m. Friday, 15 minutes after the hearing for Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta.

Spencer said they were surprised by the plea deals.

"They didn't see it coming," Spencer said.

Sources told ESPN's Kelly Naqi that Vick attorneys Larry Woodward and Billy Martin met with federal prosecutor Michael Gill and the investigators on Monday afternoon.

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In a Richmond, Va., court in late July, Vick pleaded not guilty to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture. He said in a written statement that he looked forward to "clearing my good name." He also pleaded with the public to resist a rush to judgment.

Another of Vick's co-defendants, 34-year-old Tony Taylor, pleaded guilty to the same charges and has pledged to fully cooperate with the government in its prosecution of Vick and the two others. The plea deal requires Taylor to testify against Vick and his two remaining co-defendants if called upon to do so.

A source close to the investigation told Naqi that Vick has until Friday to make up his mind whether to accept a plea agreement. Otherwise a superseding indictment will be filed and Vick will face at least two more federal dogfighting charges.

Scott Sundby, a professor at the Washington & Lee University Law School and a former special assistant U.S. attorney in Miami, said Vick could cut a deal even after a superseding indictment is issued -- but the terms would be less favorable.

"Prosecutors tend to be more lenient early and more hard-nosed later," he said.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.