An hour after formally entering his guilty plea Monday before a judge in U.S. District Court in Richmond, a once-self-assured Michael Vick apologized to his teammates and fans, saying he took full responsibility for his actions and that he was disappointed in himself.
Speaking softly, Vick said he was "not honest and forthright" when he had previously discussed the allegations with his team, the Atlanta Falcons. He also called dogfighting a "terrible thing."
"For most of my life, I've been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don't know, you know, how to say what I really want to say," he told a packed room at the Omni Hotel in Richmond, as a barrage of camera shutters clicked away.
"I'm more disappointed in myself than anything (because) of all the young kids I let down who look at Michael Vick as a role model," he said. "I will redeem myself. I have to."
It was the first time that Vick had spoken publicly about the dogfighting charges since he was indicted in July. Vick didn't take questions and left the room right after making his statement.
Earlier that morning, Vick told U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson that he was guilty of conspiring to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.
"Are you, in fact, guilty of this offense?" Hudson asked Vick during the brief court appearance.
"Yes, sir," Vick responded.
Vick's plea agreement with prosecutors indicates that he could spend a year to a year and a half behind bars.
However, Hudson isn't bound the agreement and could sentence the football player to up to five years in prison.
He made that clear during the plea hearing.
"You're taking your chances here," Hudson said. "You're going to have to live what whatever decision I make."
In a short statement behind the courthouse after the hearing, one of Vick's lawyers, Billy Martin, said his legal team would be working to show the judge that the ugly picture of a dog executioner painted in court documents was an aberration in an otherwise good person.
"We hope that Judge Hudson sees the real Mike Vick," Martin said.
Hudson said Vick's lawyers indicated that they would need several hours for their client's sentencing hearing. During sentencing hearings, character witnesses often testify on a defendant's behalf.
The guilty plea comes days after Vick, in court documents, told his version of what happened between 2001 and April 2007, when he and three co-defendants ran the Bad Newz Kennels dogfighting operation.
In court documents filed with his plea agreement Friday, Vick admitted he had a role in killing six to eight dogs that didn't perform well in test fights, by various methods, including hanging and drowning them.
But he tried to play down the gambling allegations, saying that though he might have bankrolled the Bad Newz Kennels operation - run out of the 1915 Moonlight Road property he owns in Surry County - he didn't participate in any side bets or receive any of the proceeds from wagers placed on the fights.
Vick had denied the dogfighting allegations since they surfaced in April, when police - conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin Davon Boddie - searched the Moonlight Road property and found dozens of dogs, as well as equipment commonly used to train and breed fighting dogs.
Vick agreed to plead guilty last week after his three co-defendants - Quanis Phillips of Atlanta, Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach and Tony Taylor of Hampton - all entered guilty pleas and agreed to testify against him.
In a statement Monday, the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia declared Vick's plea a victory for the government.
"These cases are ... no different than most cases in the federal system: confronted with compelling inculpatory evidence, each defendant admitted his criminal conduct under oath in open court and entered a binding written plea agreement with the United States," the statement said. "That is a decidedly efficient and just resolution of these cases."
After the hearing, retired Falcon Keion Carpenter, who played with Vick in Atlanta and at Virginia Tech, told reporters that he hoped Vick would see a second chance to do "the one thing this guy loves - to play football."
Vick is "the best in the business," Carpenter said. "The best NFL player that I've ever seen.
"He's just very sad that he put himself in this position and put (the Falcons) in this position.
"He let a lot of people down. This is a humbling experience for him."
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