RICHMOND, Va. - Michael Vick was sentenced to prison Monday for running a dogfighting operation and will stay there longer than two co-defendants, up to 23 months, because he lied about his involvement when he was supposed to be coming clean to the judge who would decide his fate.
The disgraced NFL star received a harsher sentence than the others in the federal conspiracy case because of "less than truthful" statements about killing pit bulls.
Vick said he accepted responsibility for his actions, but U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson said he wasn`t so sure.
"I`m not convinced you`ve fully accepted responsibility," Hudson told Vick, who arrived in court wearing the black-and-white striped prison uniform he was issued when he voluntarily surrendered Nov. 19 to begin serving his sentence early.
Despite the early surrender, a public apology and participation in an animal sensitivity training course, Vick was denied an "acceptance of responsibility" credit that would have reduced his sentence. Federal prosecutors opposed awarding Vick the credit.
Dogs that did not perform up to expectations were killed by electrocution, hanging, drowning and other violent means by the dogfighting ring. Hudson said evidence, including statements by the co-defendants, showed Vick was more directly involved than he admitted. Hudson also mentioned that Vick had been deceptive on a polygraph test. Though that evidence was not admissible in court, the results were discussed.
"He did more than fund it," prosecutor Michael Gill said, referring to the "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting operation.
"He was in this thing up to his neck with the other defendants."
The judge agreed.
"You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," he said.
Flanked by two defense attorneys, Vick spoke softly as he acknowledged using "poor judgment" and added, "I`m willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions."
Vick apologized to the court and his family members, who along with other supporters occupied most of two rows in the packed courtroom. Before the hearing started, Michael Vick`s brother, Marcus Vick, draped his right arm around their mother and comforted her as she wept.
"You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you," Hudson said sternly, reminding Vick of the fans he singled out when he pleaded guilty in August.
"Yes, sir," Vick answered.
Although there is no parole in the federal system, with time off for good behavior Vick could be released in the summer of 2009.
"This was an efficient, professional, and thorough investigation that well exposed a seamy side of our society," U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. "I trust Mr. Vick learned important lessons and that his admission of guilt will speed his rehabilitation."
Falcons owner Arthur Blank called the sentencing another step in Vick`s "legal journey."
"This is a difficult day for Michael`s family and for a lot of us, including many of our players and fans who have been emotionally invested in Michael over the years," Blank said. "We sincerely hope that Michael will use this time to continue to focus his efforts on making positive changes in his life, and we wish him well in that regard."
Vick was suspended without pay by the NFL and lost all his lucrative endorsement deals. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell was asked after Monday`s ruling if Vick should play again.
"That`s a determination we`ll make later on," he told The Associated Press from a legislative hearing in Austin, Texas, involving the NFL Network. "As I said earlier when we suspended him indefinitely, we would evaluate that when the legal process was closed."
On its Web site Monday, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution estimated that Vick has incurred financial losses of $142 million, including $71 million in Falcons salary, $50 million in endorsement income and nearly $20 million in previously paid bonuses.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to two years. While prosecutors asked for a sentence on the high end, defense attorney Lawrence Woodward asked for leniency, noting his client`s previously clean record despite growing up in a rough area in Newport News.
But in addition to initially lying about his role in killing dogs, Vick tested positive for marijuana use in violation of the terms set for his release - then gave conflicting accounts about when he used the drug, Hudson noted.
He also said Vick`s conflicting stories about drug use and his role in killing dogs stemmed from frustration with his interrogators and a desire to please people by telling them what he thinks they want to hear.
Vick`s lead attorney, Billy Martin, said Vick had been diagnosed as clinically depressed.
"Mr. Vick in life had numbed himself to a lot of events around him. That was, in a sense, his way of surviving," Martin said.
Outside court, Woodward said Vick didn`t want anyone feeling sorry for him.
"He just wants a chance to prove himself when all this is over," he said. "But the other thing he said to me, which I also think is important for everyone to know, is that he understood that some of the things he was doing in life and off the field were dangerous, and he told me he feels lucky that he`s alive and not hurt and now it`s all about the future."
That future now includes a stay at a still-undetermined federal prison. He has been held at a jail in Warsaw, Va., since voluntarily beginning his term.
In a plea agreement, Vick admitted bankrolling the dogfighting ring on his 15-acre property in rural Virginia. He admitted providing money for bets on the fights but said he never shared in any winnings.
The gruesome details about the dogfighting enterprise prompted a public backlash against the once-popular Vick and enraged animal-rights groups, which used the case to call attention to the brutality of dogfighting.
John Goodwin of the Humane Society of the United States called Vick`s sentence appropriate.
"People that are involved in this blood sport are on notice. You can throw your life away by being involved in this," he said.
Along with the prison term, Vick was fined $5,000 and will serve three years` probation after his release.
Two co-defendants were sentenced Nov. 30. Purnell Peace, of Virginia Beach, got 18 months. Phillips, of Atlanta, got 21 months. Another co-defendant, Tony Taylor, will be sentenced Friday.
All four men also are facing animal cruelty charges in Surry County Circuit Court. Trial has been set April 2 for Vick, March 5 for Phillips and Peace, and May 7 for Taylor.
Associated Press writers Hank Kurz Jr. and Zinie Chen Sampson in Richmond and Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, contributed to this report.