Falcons' Michael Vick Indicted In Virginia

Wednesday, September 26th 2007, 7:32 am

By: News On 6

SUSSEX, Va. (AP) _ Michael Vick has another legal fight on his hands.

The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was indicted on state charges related to a dogfighting ring operated on his Virginia property. He pleaded guilty to dogfighting conspiracy charges in federal court last month.

A Surry County grand jury indicted Vick and three co-defendants Tuesday, charging the NFL star with 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.

The grand jury didn't 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 each of them to as many as 40 years in prison if convicted.

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

Martin said lawyers will ``examine these state charges and will aggressively protect his rights to ensure that he is not held accountable for the same conduct twice.''

Arraignments are set for Oct. 3.

Vick, who also admitted to bankrolling the dogfighting operation on property he owns in Surry County in his written federal plea, is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 10.

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

Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter told The Associated Press on Monday night that he would seek indictments on different crimes than the ones in the federal case. The charges now pending are the first leveled against Vick in the county where he bought property in 2001 that became the base of the dogfighting operation, and where local investigators first uncovered evidence of the illegal enterprise.

Poindexter walked away from television cameras outside the courthouse and told reporters he was not disappointed the grand jury passed on the 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 on his way to his car.

In a written statement, Poindexter and Sheriff Harold Brown attempted to dispel any notion 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, 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. Vick has been indefinitely suspended without pay by the NFL, and dropped by sponsors, including Nike. The Falcons are trying to recoup million in bonus money paid to Vick.

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 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.

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