Judge hands Vick co-defendants sentences on high end of recommendation
RICHMOND, Va. -- A federal judge made clear his disdain for animal cruelty when he sentenced two of Michael Vick's dogfighting cohorts to 18 months and 21 months in prison Friday.
"You may have thought this was sporting, but it was very callous and cruel," judge Henry Hudson told Quanis Phillips of Atlanta, who received the longer sentence.
The prison terms for Phillips and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach are a little longer than prosecutors recommended but less than the five-year maximum Hudson could have imposed.
Vick, the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback, also faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10 for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy that operated on his 15-acre property in southeastern Virginia from 2001 until last summer.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for prison terms of a year to 18 months for Peace and 18 months to two years for Phillips, who has 10 prior misdemeanor convictions. Prosecutors recommended sentences at the low end of those ranges because of the co-defendants' cooperation in the government's investigation.
Munson: Bad sign for Vick
The judge in the Michael Vick case came down hard on two of the co-defendants when he sentenced them Friday, and that doesn't bode well for Vick. Story
But Hudson, who owns a bichon frise dog, said he believed slightly tougher sentences were appropriate. Peace's sentence is at the top of the guideline range, Phillips' in the middle.
And Benjamin said Vick still could get a sentence above the negotiated range in his case -- a year to 18 months -- if Hudson concludes 27-year-old Vick is more culpable than the others because he admitting bankrolling the operation and providing gambling money.
According to court papers, Vick not only financed the "Bad Newz Kennels" but also participated in executing several underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other means.
Vick publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting enterprise and turned himself in Nov. 19 to begin serving his prison term early. He is being held in a state jail in Warsaw, Va.
Vick's attorney, Lawrence Woodward, attended Friday's proceedings and declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, also attended and said he was satisfied with the sentences.
"The judge sent a pretty strong and clear message that dogfighting is a dead-end activity and it carries some meaningful consequences," Goodwin said.
Peace, Phillips and Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty last summer and agreed to testify against Vick, prompting the former Virginia Tech football star to enter his own plea agreement a few days later. The 35-year-old Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 14.
In addition to prison time, Peace and Phillips were fined $250 each and will be placed on three years' probation after their release.
Hudson said he was "disturbed" to read in a pre-sentencing report that Peace told the court he saw nothing wrong with dogfighting and believed "it's natural for dogs to fight."
"I am very sorry," Peace told Hudson, fighting back tears while his family members in the packed courtroom softly wept.
"I apologize for what I did to the dogs. I want to also apologize to the Humane Society and PETA," he said.
Peace also expressed remorse and pleaded for understanding in a letter to Hudson, who received five other letters from Peace's friends and relatives.
"I have asked God and my family to forgive me, but I would also like to ask you, the public, and everyone else that I have affected and or offended not to just pardon me but to try and understand I am not without sin, and I am more than just the dog slayer the world has come to know me as," Peace wrote.
The 28-year-old Phillips passed on his opportunity to address the court and did not submit any letters from supporters. His attorney, Jeffrey Swartz, later told reporters Phillips was "nervous and decided not to speak," so he did the talking for him.
Swartz told the judge Phillips was sorry and would be willing to "help address the issue of dogfighting" as part of his probation.
"That's going to have to flow from the heart, not an order from me," Hudson said.
Swartz also explained how Phillips got involved in the enterprise, tracing it to his childhood in Vick's hometown of Newport News.
"He grew up around people for whom dogfighting was an accepted and acceptable activity," Swartz told Hudson. "It was a way for young men to prove themselves."
Swartz said he was not trying to excuse the behavior, which Phillips now realizes was wrong.
All four men also face state charges, and Swartz told Hudson that "I still have to shake my head and wonder a little bit about the federal government's decision to prosecute this case."
Neither defendant may purchase, possess or care for canines without permission from his probation officer upon his release from prison.
Federal prosecutors refused to comment as they left the courthouse, where several protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gathered holding posters with pictures of injured dogs.
Taylor's attorney, Claire Cardwell, also left without answering reporters' questions.
Phillips, who has been in custody for violating terms of his release with a positive drug test, was led away in his orange prison jumpsuit with his ankles shackled in chains. He will receive credit for time already served.
The 36-year-old Peace will report to prison Jan. 3.
The case began in April when a drug investigation of a Vick relative led authorities to the Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia.
ESPN's Kelly Naqi and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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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