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Published: Tuesday, 9/25/2007

Vick indicted on state dogfighting charges

ASSOCIATED PRESS

SUSSEX, Va. Michael Vick, already looking at a federal prison term for bankrolling a dogfighting operation in rural Virginia, now faces two state charges that could get him more prison time if he s convicted.

After a Surry County grand jury indicted the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and three co-defendants today, Vick s lawyers indicated they will fight the state charges on the grounds that he can t be convicted twice of the same crime.

The NFL star, scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10 after pleading guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, faces state charges of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each felony is punishable by up to five years in prison. Arraignments are set for Oct. 3.

The grand jury declined to indict the 27-year-old Vick and two co-defendants on eight additional counts of killing or causing to be killed a companion animal, felonies that would have exposed them to as many as 40 years in prison if convicted.

Vick defense attorney Billy Martin said in a statement that the state counts concern the same conduct covered by the federal indictment for which Mr. Vick has already accepted full responsibility.

Martin said he will aggressively protect his rights to ensure that he is not held accountable for the same conduct twice.

Vick was convicted of a federal conspiracy count while the state indictment deals with the act of dog fighting, said Steven Benjamin, a Richmond defense lawyer who is not involved in the case. The prosecution will argue that s enough of a difference to allow the charges to proceed, he said.

Surry County Commonwealth s Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter had told The Associated Press on Monday night that he would seek indictments on different crimes than the ones Vick admitted to in federal court. He did not elaborate to reporters outside court today.

The charges are the first leveled against Vick in the county where he built a home that became the base of the dogfighting operation, where local investigators first uncovered evidence of the enterprise.

None of the defendants nor their lawyers were at the Sussex County courthouse, where the grand jury met because the courthouse in neighboring Surry County is closed for renovations.

Poindexter told reporters he was not disappointed the grand jury passed on the eight additional dog killing counts.

I m just glad to get this to the position where it is now and, one day in the not too distant future, we will be rid of these cases, he said.

In a written statement, Poindexter and Sheriff Harold Brown attempted to diffuse in advance any suggestion that race influenced the grand jury. Brown, Poindexter and the four defendants are black, as are four of the six grand jurors.

These are serious charges, and we can assure you that this grand jury was not driven by racial prejudice, their affection or lack of affection for professional athletes, or the influence of animal rights activists and the attendant publicity, the statement said.

In pleading guilty to the federal charges last month, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight dogs, among other things. He faces up to five years in prison.

Vick s co-defendants had pleaded guilty earlier and detailed Vick s role in the grisly enterprise.

In the state case, co-defendant Purnell Peace was indicted on one count of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Quanis Phillips was indicted on one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting.

Tony Taylor, who left the enterprise several years ago and was the first to plead guilty, faces the most serious state charges three counts of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting.

Falcons spokesman Reggie Roberts said the team had no comments on the new charges.

The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick s cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star s property and seized dozens of dogs, most of them pit bulls, and equipment commonly associated with dogfighting.

Six weeks later, with the local investigation perceived to be dragging and a local search warrant allowed to expire, federal agents arrived with their own search warrants and started digging up dog carcasses buried days before the first raid.

Poindexter, widely criticized for the pace of the investigation, reacted angrily when the feds moved in, suggesting that Vick s celebrity was a draw, or that their pursuit of the case could have racial overtones. He later eased off those comments, saying the sides would simply be pursuing parallel investigations.

Vick has been indefinitely suspended without pay by the NFL and been dropped by all his major sponsors, including Nike.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.



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