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Vick faces prison time after agreeing to plead guilty

RICHMOND, Va. -- More than football, Michael Vick's freedom
is the question now.

With three associates prepared to testify that he brutally
executed dogs and bankrolled gambling, the NFL star agreed Monday
to "accept full responsibility" for his role in a dogfighting
ring and plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges.

Worries about playing time will have to wait while Vick faces
prison time -- from one to five years.

The maximum term is five years in prison and a $250,000 fine,
although federal sentencing guidelines likely would call for less.
Defense attorneys would not divulge details of the plea agreement
or how much time Vick can expect to serve.

However, a source close to the situation told ESPN's Kelly Naqi that prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 12 to 18 months.

The official said such a sentence would be more than what is
usually recommended for first-time offenders, reflecting the
government's attempt to show that animal abusers will receive more
than a slap on the wrist. U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson is not
bound by prosecutors' recommendations or the sentencing guidelines
and will have the final say.

Twenty-five days after he declared that he looked forward to
clearing his name, Vick said through defense lawyer Billy Martin
that he will plead guilty. A hearing is scheduled for Aug. 27.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges
and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes
he has made," Martin said in a statement. "Michael wishes to
apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

The NFL noted in a statement that the Atlanta Falcons
quarterback's admission wasn't in line with what he told
commissioner Roger Goodell shortly after being charged. League sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen that Goodell likely will suspend Vick indefinitely and that a final decision on Vick's suspension will be made after his legal case is resolved.

"We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which
is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our
office and the Falcons," the NFL said.

The league, which barred Vick from training camp, said it has
asked the Falcons to withhold further action while the NFL's own
investigation wraps up.

"The commissioner has not decided on a specific timetable on Michael Vick's status," league spokesman Greg Aiello told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The Falcons said they were "certainly troubled" by news of the
plea, but would withhold further comment in compliance with
Goodell's request. If the league suspends Vick, the Falcons could then seek to recoup part of his signing bonus of approximately $22 million, because if suspended, then Vick would be in default of his contract, team officials told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio.

The team already was prepared to eat Vick's $8.5 million salary
cap hit this season, though the NFL is expected to grant a roster
exemption.

Additionally, the Falcons would be liable for about $15 million on
next year's cap.

Gene Upshaw, executive director of the NFL Players Association,
said in a statement:

"We believe the criminal conduct to which Mr. Vick has pled
guilty today cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Speaking
personally, as I have previously stated, the practice of dogfighting is offensive and completely unacceptable. I can only hope
that Mr. Vick, who is a young man, will learn from this awful
experience."

In a telephone interview with the AP, Martin said Vick is paying
a high price for allowing old friends to influence his behavior,
but he emphasized that his client takes full responsibility.

"There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was
associating with," Martin said. "He realized this is very
serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing
process."

The lawyer said salvaging Vick's NFL career was never part of
the discussions.

"Football is not the most important thing in Michael Vick's
life," Martin said. "He wants to get his life back on track."

Another defense attorney, James D. "Butch" Williams Jr.,
alluded to the harsh public backlash against Vick since the July 17
indictment detailed the abuse of dogs on Vick's property in Surry
County, Va.

"Michael is a father, he's a son, he's a human being -- people
oftentimes forget that," he said, adding that Vick is "very
remorseful."

"Nobody's been rougher on Mike than Mike's been on himself,"
Williams said.

Animal-rights activists said they hoped the high-profile case
would increase public awareness and help bring down other
dogfighting rings.

"The only good that can come from this case is that the
American people dedicate themselves to the task of rooting out
dogfighting in every infected area where it thrives," said Wayne
Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United
States.

The plea deal was announced just as a new grand jury began
meeting. Prosecutors had said that a superseding indictment was in
the works, but Vick's plea most likely means he will not face new
charges on top of the original: conspiracy to travel in interstate
commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiracy to sponsor a
dog in an animal fighting venture.

Three of Vick's original co-defendants already had pleaded
guilty and agreed to testify against him if the case went to trial.
Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach
signed statements saying Vick participated in executing at least
eight underperforming dogs by various means, including drowning and
hanging.

Phillips, Peace and Tony Taylor, who pleaded guilty last month,
also said Vick provided virtually all of the gambling and operating
funds for his "Bad Newz Kennels" operation in rural Virginia, not
far from Vick's hometown of Newport News.

"I, like all people who know and care about Michael Vick, was very disappointed and saddened by the news," Frank Beamer, who coached Vick at Virginia Tech, said in a statement. "Although all the details are not known at this time, I am greatly concerned that Michael has put himself in this position."

The gambling allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban
under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Vick's Atlanta attorney, Daniel Meachum, told the AP that Vick
is taking a chance with his guilty plea as far as his career is
concerned because there have been no discussions with the league in
recent days.

"There's no promise or even a request of the league to make a
promise," Meachum said.

He said the plea deal involves only the federal case and that he
didn't know if there had been any discussions about resolving state
charges that may still be filed.

The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug
search at a massive home Vick built in Surry County found 66 dogs,
some of them injured, and items typically used in dogfighting. They
included a "rape stand" that holds aggressive dogs in place for
mating and a "breakstick" used to pry open a dog's mouth.

Vick contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at
the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely
visited. The former Virginia Tech star also blamed friends and
family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged
to be more scrupulous.

The July 17 indictment said dogs that lost fights or fared
poorly in test fights were sometimes executed by hanging,
electrocution or other brutal means. The grisly details fueled
public protests against Vick and cost him some of his lucrative
endorsement deals.

About a dozen bright red Vick jerseys have been donated -- often
accompanied by financial contributions -- to the Atlanta Humane
Society since he was indicted last month. The shelter uses them for
dog blankets, and to clean up after the animals.

"Kind of appropriate," Pacelle said.

In a statement issued Monday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals called on the league to incorporate cruelty to animals into its personal conduct policy.

"This case has clearly shown that NFL fans are just as outraged by cruelty to animals as any of the other antisocial behaviors outlined in the policy," PETA's statement read.

In a separate legal run-in, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Vick was cited for not wearing a seat belt during a traffic stop in Virginia on Thursday. The car Vick was riding in was pulled over because the tint on the windows was too dark.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.