Vick’s future awaits judge’s decision today


The former Falcons’ QB could get up to five years
in prison.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — How much, if any, will Michael Vick’s role as financier of a brutal dogfighting ring hurt him? What about his use of drugs while awaiting sentencing?

Or will he benefit from his public apology? His cooperation? His voluntary early start on his prison term?

Answers to these questions, among others, will determine how much time the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback will serve in prison for his role in a federal dogfighting conspiracy.

And the only man who knows the answers is U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who will sentence Vick in a packed courtroom today while the disgraced NFL star’s supporters and animal-rights activists rally outside.

Vick faces a maximum of five years in prison. Hudson is not bound by sentencing guidelines that suggest a year to 18 months, or prosecutors’ recommendation.

Hudson already has sentenced two of Vick’s co-defendants to 18 months and 21 months — slightly more than prosecutors recommended, but still within the guidelines.

Legal experts said Hudson’s willingness to stick to the guidelines in those cases is a positive sign for Vick, but by no means a guarantee he will get similar treatment because so many factors could work against him.

For example, Vick admitted he bankrolled the “Bad Newz Kennels” dogfighting enterprise on a 15-acre property he owned in rural southeastern Virginia. He also gave his associates money to bet on the fights but said he did not share in any winnings.

“The judge could say that but for the money, this might not have happened — or might not have happened on the scale that it did,” said Linda Malone, a law professor at the College of William & Mary.

Richmond attorney Steve Benjamin, secretary of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, noted the plea agreement Vick negotiated with prosecutors did not include any sentencing enhancement for a leadership role in the conspiracy. But that does not preclude Hudson from considering that role, Benjamin said.

Perhaps a bigger concern for Vick, according to Malone, is the extent of his involvement in executing dogs. Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls. Any details the judge learns about exactly what Vick did could weigh heavily in his decision, Malone said.

She said Hudson also likely will take a dim view of Vick’s positive test for marijuana in September — a violation of the conditions set for Vick’s release after he pleaded guilty. The infraction prompted Hudson to impose a curfew and electronic monitoring.

Vick voluntarily began serving his prison term Nov. 19, a move his lawyer said demonstrated Vick’s willingness to take responsibility for his actions.

“It was beneficial that he went in to serve his sentence before Thanksgiving, but that wasn’t completely altruistic because he couldn’t play football anyway,” Malone said.

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