|Two co-defendants in NFL star Michael Vick's federal dogfighting case sentenced to prison|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 30 November 2007 12:02|
``You may have thought this was sporting, but it was very callous and cruel,'' Judge Henry Hudson told Quanis Phillips of Atlanta, who received the longer sentence.
The prison terms for Phillips and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach are a little longer than prosecutors recommended, but less than the five-year maximum Hudson could have imposed.
Vick, the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback, also faces up to five years in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 10 for his role in a dogfighting conspiracy that operated on his 15-acre property in southeastern Virginia from 2001 until last summer.
``It's good news for Michael Vick because it shows the judge is willing to sentence within the range,'' said Steven Benjamin of Richmond, secretary of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
Federal sentencing guidelines called for prison terms of a year to 18 months for Peace and 18 months to two years for Phillips, who has 10 prior misdemeanor convictions. Prosecutors recommended sentences at the low end of those ranges because of the co-defendants' cooperation in the government's investigation.
But Hudson, who owns a bichon frise dog, said he believed slightly tougher sentences were appropriate. Peace's sentence is at the top of the guideline range, Phillips' in the middle.
And Benjamin said Vick still could get a sentence above the negotiated range in his case - a year to 18 months - if Hudson concludes 27-year-old Vick is more culpable than the others because he admitting bankrolling the operation and providing gambling money.
According to court papers, Vick not only financed the ``Bad Newz Kennels'' but also participated in executing several underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other means.
Vick publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting enterprise and turned himself in Nov. 19 to begin serving his prison term early. He is being held in a state jail in Warsaw, Va.
Vick's attorney, Lawrence Woodward, attended Friday's proceedings and declined to comment as he left the courtroom.
John Goodwin, manager of animal fighting issues for the Humane Society of the United States, also attended and said he was satisfied with the sentences.
``The judge sent a pretty strong and clear message that dogfighting is a dead-end activity, and it carries some meaningful consequences,'' Goodwin said.
Peace, Phillips and Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty last summer and agreed to testify against Vick, prompting the former Virginia Tech football star to enter his own plea agreement a few days later. The 35-year-old Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 14.
In addition to prison time, Peace and Phillips were fined $250 each and will be placed on three years' probation after their release.
Hudson said he was ``disturbed'' to read in a pre-sentencing report that Peace told the court he saw nothing wrong with dogfighting and believed ``it's natural for dogs to fight.''
``I am very sorry,'' Peace told Hudson, fighting back tears while his family members in the packed courtroom softly wept.
Peace also expressed remorse and pleaded for understanding in a letter to Hudson, who received five other letters from Peace's friends and relatives.
``I have asked God and my family to forgive me, but I would also like to ask you, the public, and everyone else that I have affected and or offended not to just pardon me, but to try and understand I am not without sin, and I am more than just the dog slayer the world has come to know me as,'' Peace wrote.
The 28-year-old Phillips passed on his opportunity to address the court and did not submit any letters from supporters. His attorney, Jeffrey Swartz, later told reporters Phillips was ``nervous and decided not to speak,'' so he did the talking for him.
Swartz told the judge Phillips was sorry and would be willing to ``help address the issue of dogfighting'' as part of his probation.
``That's going to have to flow from the heart, not an order from me,'' Hudson said.
Swartz also explained how Phillips got involved in the enterprise, tracing it to his childhood in Vick's hometown of Newport News.
``He grew up around people for whom dogfighting was an accepted and acceptable activity,'' Swartz told Hudson. ``It was a way for young men to prove themselves.''
Swartz said he was not trying to excuse the behavior, which Phillips now realizes was wrong.
All four men also face state charges, and Swartz told Hudson that ``I still have to shake my head and wonder a little bit about the federal government's decision to prosecute this case.''
Federal prosecutors refused to comment as they left the courthouse, where several protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gathered holding posters with pictures of injured dogs.
Taylor's attorney, Claire Cardwell, also left without answering reporters' questions.
Phillips, who has been in custody for violating terms of his release, was led away in his orange prison jumpsuit. The 36-year-old Peace will report to prison Jan. 3.
The case began in April when a drug investigation of a Vick relative led authorities to the Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia.
Associated Press Writer Zinie Chen Sampson contributed to this report.