Less than a month after saying he looked forward to clearing his name, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick now says he will plead guilty to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges, an admission that likely will mean prison time.
Vick's attorney, Billy Martin, announced Monday that his client will formally enter his plea at a court hearing next Monday.
Martin said Vick made the decision on Friday, then consulted with his family before making it public. With a strong case against him and three co-defendants ready to testify against the star quarterback, Vick – who electrified fans with his Houdini-like escapes from pursuing defenders - ran out of legal running room.
The two co-defendants, who pleaded guilty last week, said Vick ran the gambling operation behind a dog-fighting enterprise. They said he helped execute dogs that did not perform well by hanging and drowning them.
Prosecutors reportedly will recommend 12 to 18 months in prison, a term considered tough for defendants, like Vick, with no prior criminal record.
In the statement from Martin, Vick accepted full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made. Martin said his client wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by his actions.
Vick will be in court next Monday. Federal judge Henry Hudson will set a sentencing date and also hear details of Vick's involvement in the case.
Hudson doesn't have to follow the prosecution's recommendation, but attorney Shawn Wright – who worked for years with Martin - doesn't think the judge he will be influenced by angry animal-right's activists, who are calling for a tough sentence.
"The media outcry is there, ... (but) this is a standup judge and he's going to do what's right," he said.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Martin said football is not the most important thing in Vick's life, "but it's through football, that the country has witnessed Vick's dramatic fall from the top."
Vick, the number one draft pick in 2001, was promoted as the future of the NFL. A talented, running quarterback who would redefine the position.
But the league that once loved Vick has now turned against him.
After the dogfighting story first emerged, Vick told NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell he wasn't involved. In a statement Monday, the NFL said, "we totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons."
For now, any hopes of salvaging his NFL career are secondary to his impending confinement.
The league is doing its own investigation and Goodell will not take action until it is completed.
A likely first course of action could be an indefinite suspension of Vick. That would also allow the Falcons to recoup some of what they have paid their quarterback. In 2004, he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract, with a signing bonus of around $22 million. If he is suspended by the NFL, Vick would be considered in default of his contract, and the Falcons could try to reclaim the signing bonus.
The Falcons said they were "certainly troubled" by news of the plea, but would withhold further comment in compliance with Goodell's request.
With additional reporting from The Associated Press