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. He 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 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.
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."
Two co-defendants were sentenced Nov. 30. Purnell Peace, of Virginia Beach, got 18 months. Quanis 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.