Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in prison yesterday on a dogfighting charge by a federal judge skeptical of the quarterback's apologies. The sentence completed a freefall during which Vick tumbled from one of pro football's most marketed stars to a scorned perpetrator who arrived at the courthouse in a prison jumpsuit.
The sentence, hailed by animal rights groups as a message against a "blood sport," was longer than Vick and his attorneys had hoped for when they reached a deal with federal prosecutors in August. The deal culminated in the flashy quarterback's apology and his public vow to "redeem myself."
But U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson suggested yesterday that Vick misled authorities when he admitted bankrolling wagers on dogfights earlier this year but said he wasn't personally involved in the killings. Vick later admitted he once dropped a dog after a co-defendant tied a rope around the animal's neck, according to the judge.
"I'm not convinced you've fully accepted responsibility," Hudson told Vick, who wore the black-and-white striped jumpsuit during sentencing at the federal courthouse in Richmond, Va.
Vick, who reported to prison last month, is also facing state dogfighting charges in Virginia.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for a term of 18 months to two years. By sentencing at the upper end of that range, the judge sent "a clear message to criminals everywhere that this kind of gross and barbaric cruelty to animals will not be tolerated," said Ed Sayres, president and chief executive officer of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
He was known for his quickness and moves in the open field. The Falcons' Web site once boasted Vick was "blessed with rare athletic abilities not before seen at the quarterback position in the history of the NFL."
"People wonder how he could he jeopardize everything for this," University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias said yesterday. "That's the obvious question."
Tobias and other legal observers had said Hudson has a reputation for being tough in sentencing, particularly in public corruption cases, and Vick would not benefit from being a sports celebrity.
Vick likely hurt his chances for leniency by testing positive for marijuana Sept. 13, violating conditions of his release while he awaited sentencing.
"My sense is that Judge Hudson was outraged by Vick's involvement and financing of the dogfighting operation, and he [could] also [have] been aggravated by Vick's drug test violation," Michael McCann, an assistant professor at the Mississippi College School of Law, said yesterday. "It's hard to know what specifically motivated Judge Hudson, but he didn't seem to believe in Vick's alleged contriteness."
Vick, a native of the Tidewater area of Virginia, and others started the dogfighting operation more than five years ago. The Surry County property was transformed into a "staging area," according to court records. The records detail the way Vick and other men began buying dogs and puppies - they had such names as Too Short, Big Boy, Magic, Tiny and Jane - and training them to fight. Dogs were put through "fighting sessions" to determine which were toughest, and prosecutors said Vick and two others agreed in April to the killing of six to eight dogs that did not perform well.
Vick, 27, apologized in August, calling dogfighting "a terrible thing."
He apologized to the court and his family again yesterday, prompting Hudson to say: "You need to apologize to the millions of young people who looked up to you."
"Yes, sir," Vick answered.
Vick - still in his prime at age 27 - acknowledged using "poor judgment" and added, "I'm willing to deal with the consequences and accept responsibility for my actions."
Although there is no parole in the federal system, rules governing time off for good behavior could reduce Vick's prison stay by about three months, resulting in a summer 2009 release.
"You were instrumental in promoting, funding and facilitating this cruel and inhumane sporting activity," Hudson told Vick.
Two co-defendants were sentenced Nov. 30. In August, the NFL indefinitely suspended Vick without pay, and his once amicable relationship with the Falcons seems to have fractured. The team is seeking to recover $19.7 million in bonuses paid to Vick.
In July, Baltimore created a task force to investigate allegations of animal cruelty. "The publicity around the Vick case has led to a number of calls, and we've followed up on them," said City Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.