2 more plead guilty in Vick case

The Baltimore Sun

RICHMOND, Va. -- Michael Vick's last two co-defendants pleaded guilty yesterday to federal dogfighting charges and said the Atlanta Falcons quarterback actively participated in killing about eight dogs.

They also said they posed in 2003 for a picture with Vick and a pit bulldog named Jane, who won at least three fights, according to court documents filed with the plea agreements.

The guilty pleas leave Vick, 27, to stand trial alone Nov. 26. As of the close of court business yesterday, he hadn't made an appointment for a plea hearing that would spare him from a trial.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Richmond said he couldn't comment on whether an oral agreement was reached with Vick. Calls to spokesmen for Vick's defense team were not returned.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said Vick's attorneys were negotiating with prosecutors as of late afternoon, trying to hammer out a plea deal.

"It seems to be a pretty clear indication there will be some sort of plea entered," Blank said. "When? I'm not positive."

Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, Va., and Quanis L. Phillips 28, of Atlanta, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.

The charges carry a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine. A fourth co-defendant, Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton, Va., pleaded guilty July 30.

Statements of fact filed along with the Peace and Phillips plea agreements back up details provided in Taylor's agreement, including the charge that Vick funded the dogfighting operation but didn't share in the winnings.

Those allegations alone could trigger a lifetime ban under the NFL's personal conduct policy.

Commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from training camp but has withheld further action while the league conducts its own investigation. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league had no comment on the latest pleas.

Blank accused Vick of lying to him and Goodell when they first questioned Vick about the allegations.

"It's distressing after six years spending time with somebody, you think you know them and then there's another side that is shocking to all of us," Blank said. "Those statements of facts don't match up with what the league was told, even our organization, and certainly not was said to the commissioner. So we'll have to see what comes out in this plea and deal with the facts as soon as we have them."

Prosecutors said Vick, Phillips and Taylor started the dogfighting operation called Bad Newz Kennels in 2001 at property Vick purchased in rural southeastern Surry County. They said Peace joined the operation in 2002. Between 2002 and 2007, at least 14 dogfights took place at the Surry property and in other states, court documents said.

Taylor and Phillips generally split the proceeds, and Peace didn't receive profits until after Taylor's departure in September 2004. Peace then became the primary caretaker for the dogs, and Vick paid him about $3,000 per month, according to Peace's statement of facts.

Peace's court documents say Vick, Taylor, Peace and Phillips posed for a photo with Jane, a pit bull, before a fight against a female pit bull owned by Lockjaw Kennels of North Carolina. The fight happened in North Carolina in spring 2003. That photo would place Vick at the scene of a dogfight.

The court filings also say Peace, Phillips and Vick killed about eight dogs that failed to fight well after testing sessions in April 2007.

The summary of facts reads in part: "These dogs all died as a result of the collective efforts of Peace, Phillips and Vick." They used various methods of execution, including hanging and drowning, the court papers read.

Peace and Phillips, like Taylor, agreed to testify against Vick if necessary. Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 14. Peace and Phillips will be sentenced Nov. 30.

Unlike Taylor's plea agreement, the agreements for Peace and Phillips state that the "underlying facts relating to the victimization and execution of pit bull dogs" makes it necessary to deviate upward from federal sentencing guidelines.

That means Peace and Phillips face between a year and a year and a half in jail, and possibly more based on their criminal histories.

But the guidelines are only advisory, said Andrew Sacks, a Norfolk criminal defense attorney with extensive experience in federal court.

Phillips was taken into custody after the hearing because the judge ruled he had violated the conditions of his bond. He was ordered at his arraignment July 26 to remain drug-free as a condition of his release, but a urine test came back positive for drugs.

Peace remains free.

Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer and Veronica Gorley Chufo write for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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