Earlier this morning, NFL star Michael "Ookie" Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for his role in a dog fighting ring that was run from his Virginia property.
Federal Judge Henry Hudson imposed the sentence in the same Richmond, Virginia courthouse where Vick pleaded guilty to dog fighting charges last August. That plea capped a four-month federal investigation that began when local officials discovered evidence of dog fighting on Vick's property near Smithfield, in rural Surry County. The feds stepped in when local officials (led by prosecutor Gerald Poindexter) took a "go slow" approach in probing the Vick case.
In handing down today's sentence, Judge Hudson generally followed the recommendations of federal prosecutors, who suggested a prison term "on the low end" of 18 to 24 months, as stipulated in Vick's plea agreement. Hudson, who has a history of ignoring prosecutor's recommendations, could have sentenced Vick to up to five years in prison.
Assuming that the Falcons' quarterback receives time off for good behavior, he won't return to the NFL until sometime during the 2010 season--at the earliest. Vick (who reported to jail ahead of schedule last month) had originally hoped for a one-year sentence, which might have allowed him to resume a pro football career next year. Serving the 23-month sentence, Vick will be almost 30 years old when he is released, and (potentially) past his prime as an NFL player.
There is also the outside chance that Vick will never return to the gridiron. He still faces state dog fighting charges, recently filed by Commonwealth's Attorney Poindexter. Trial on those charges is slated for next April, and could result in more jail time.
Today's federal sentencing represented the latest milepost in the stunning fall of Vick, who was once the NFL's highest-paid player. When evidence of dog-fighting was first discovered at his property last April, Vick was dismissive; he blamed others and (reportedly) observed that "all he had to worry about was winning football games."
As the investigation unfolded, it became apparent that Vick was heavily involved in the dog-fighting operation, dubbed the "Bad Newz Kennels." Not only did Vick bankroll the effort, he also provided money for bets at dog fights, and participated in the execution of "six to eight" animals who performed poorly.
During today's sentencing, Judge Hudson said he wasn't sure that Vick had fully accepted responsibility for his actions. "You were instrumental in putting together and funding this inhumane sporting activity," Hudson told Vick, calling him a "full partner" and "equally culpable" as the rest of his co-defendants. Vick's sentence was longer than that of his two partners, who received prison terms of 18 and 21 months, respectively.
Fittingly, Vick appeared at today's sentencing in a black and white prison outfit. It's the only uniform he'll be wearing for the next couple of years.