Surry's turn to indict Vick

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Michael Vick's legal woes compounded Tuesday afternoon when a Surry grand jury indicted him and three associates on local charges related to dogfighting Tuesday afternoon.

About three hours after convening, the grand jury charged the Newport News native and former Atlanta Falcons starting quarterback with one count of promoting or engaging in dogfighting, and a second count of beating, killing or causing dogs to fight.

Both are felonies that carry sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of up to $2,500.

"We are disappointed that these charges were filed in Surry County since it is the same conduct covered by the federal indictment for which Mr. Vick has already accepted full responsibility and plead guilty to in U.S. District Court," Billy Martin, an attorney for Vick, said in a statement after the indictments were announced.

Martin said the county was trying to hold Vick "accountable for the same conduct twice."

LATEST TWIST

The Surry indictments are the latest twist in a legal free fall that has derailed Vick's reputation as one of the NFL's leading stars and exposed the Newport News native as a central figure in a brutal dogfighting enterprise. Just five months ago Tuesday, police executed search warrants at a Surry house owned by Vick after his cousin, Davon Boddie, listed it as his address when arrested on drug charges. Once on the property, authorities discovered an extensive dog-training facility painted black in woods behind the house. They also discovered 66 dogs.

Last month, the 27-year-old Vick signed a plea agreement and a statement admitting his involvement in a dogfighting conspiracy. In his guilty plea, Vick admitted to bankrolling a dogfighting operation called Bad Newz Kennels over six years and participating in the killing of six to eight dogs.

He faces up to five years in prison in the federal dogfighting case with a sentencing hearing scheduled for Dec. 10 in Richmond.

LOCAL CHARGES

On Tuesday, Surry Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald Poindexter also asked the local grand jury to indict Vick on eight counts of animal cruelty in the killing of poorly performing dogs, but the jury did not approve those charges.

Each of those counts would have carried a sentence of up to five years in prison, for a total of 40 years.

Vick's three co-defendants in the federal case - Quanis Phillips, Purnell Peace and Tony Taylor - were also indicted by the Surry grand jury on similar charges. Poindexter asked that they all be arraigned on Oct. 3.

Following the federal court guilty pleas by Vick and his co-defendants, it wasn't clear if local charges would be sought.

LACKED EVIDENCE

Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald Poindexter had maintained that he wanted to prosecute Vick in Surry County, but said earlier that charges might not come this month because he did not have access to evidence that federal prosecutors had taken to pursue their case, including some witnesses.

On Tuesday, however, he said that while federal investigators still had a great deal of the evidence in the case, he now had on hand the witnesses he needed to move forward.

"We have released back to our purview witnesses that we didn't have before," Poindexter said Tuesday.

In a statement, Poindexter said the decision of the grand jury - made up of two black men, two black women and two white women - was not about race. Four grand jurors need to agree to issue an indictment for a charge to go forward.

"These are serious charges and we can assure you that this grand jury was not driven by racial prejudice, their affection or lack or affection for professional athletes, or the influence of animal rights activists and the attendant publicity," Poindexter said, in a joint statement with Surry County Sheriff Harold Brown. "The grand jury represents the conscience of the good people of Surry County."

The Surry County grand jury convened in Sussex County because the Surry County courthouse is under construction.

Poindexter has said he plans to use some of the evidence, including statements from Vick and his three co-defendants that came out in the federal case to prosecute in Surry.

FEDERAL CHARGES

In the federal case, Vick and his three co-defendants were charged with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.

However, they weren't charged with fighting or killing dogs in Surry County, even though they admitted to the crimes in the sworn statements that accompanied their federal plea agreements, Poindexter said.

Poindexter's investigation of the dogfighting operation at 1915 Moonlight Road was taken over by the federal government in June, less than two months after local authorities first searched his Surry County property. Poindexter had been criticized for moving too slowly on the Vick prosecution.

DOUBLE PROSECUTION

It's unusual to see local prosecutors move forward with their own charges after a federal investigation has secured a guilty verdict, said Anne Coughlin, a law professor at the University of Virginia School of Law in Charlottesville.

"Typically we can imagine the state being willing, or even happy to step aside," Coughlin said. "Why spend state dollars punishing him for something he's already been punished for?"

However, she added, such legal maneuvers aren't unprecedented.

Poindexter may have been responding to pressure from the same critics who said he had been dragging his feet on the Vick case from the beginning, Coughlin said.

"It's perfectly sensible and legitimate for the Virginia prosecutors to feel that the federal charges don't adequately punish Vick for the crimes he committed in the Commonwealth of Virginia," Coughlin said.

What's also unusual is that the grand jury didn't return an indictment on the eight dog-killing charges, said Joe Pennington, a Norfolk criminal defense attorney.

Vick and his co-defendants already admitted to killing dogs, leading Pennington to wonder what kind of information was presented to the grand jury.

"If the prosecution asks for an indictment, the grand jury usually gives an indictment," he said.

On Tuesday, local residents had varied reactions to the new local charges.

While some said they were happy to see Vick prosecuted further, Sussex County resident Joselyn Lewis called the extra charges "bogus."

"They should just leave him alone. It's done and over with. If the federal government already prosecuted him, why are they doing it? It's wasting money - taxpayer's money," said Lewis, who stopped at a Surry gas station Tuesday. "There are other crimes here in Surry County that need to be solved."

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