Monday, August 13, 2007

Ookie's (Other) Stoolies

It's been said that there's no honor among thieves, and the same apparently holds true in dog-fighting rings.

Put another way: the legal woes of NFL star Michael "Ookie" Vick just got worse.

Late today, federal prosecutors in Richmond, Virginia, announced that plea deals have been reached with the remaining defendants in Vick's dog-fighting case. That means that the Falcons quarterback will be going it alone when he goes on trial later this year.

When federal indictments were handed down last month on dog-fighting and conspiracy charges, only one of the defendants, Tony Taylor, pleaded guilty to his role in the operation, which was allegedly run from Vick's former property in Surry County. Now, less than a month later, Vick's two remaining co-defendants, Purnell Peace and Quanis Phillips, have made their own deals with prosecutors and will enter pleas later this week, according to WRIC-TV in Richmond.

Collins Spencer, the former Fox News and CNN anchor now working as Vick's spokesman, said defense attorneys were surprised at the latest plea agreements. In fact, it's their reaction that we find a bit surprising. From what we can tell, Vick's projected defense will be based (at least in part) on the "I wasn't home" excuse. With the star quarterback spending most of his time in Atlanta, the theory goes, Taylor, Peace and Phillips had the run of the property, and served as the primary managers of "Bad Newz Kennels," the name given to the dog-fighting operation.

It's also a safe bet that Vick's defense lawyers planned to pit the co-defendants against each other, looking for contradictions in their testimony, and painting them as opportunists, eager to cut a deal and save their own skin.

Vick's lead attorney, Billy Martin, may still attempt a variation on that defense. But with the other defendants cutting a deal with the feds (and providing testimony that will be consistent (and damaging) to Mr. Vick, the defense team's job just got a lot tougher.

Of course, Vick is still entitled to his day in court, and there is a chance he might win the case, given his popularity in Virginia (or at least, some parts of the state), and the ability of defense attorneys to discredit the testimony of co-defendants. But don't bet on it.

Vick did get a bit of good news yesterday. The NFL announced that it has not reached a decision on suspending the Falcons' star for the year, responding to media reports that Vick would be forced to sit out the season. A league spokesman says that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is still weighing evidence, and won't reach a decision for another week or so.

In other words, Vick is still (officially) a member of the Falcons. But he's still banned from training camp, and his prospects for taking a snap this year are very slim, indeed--about the same odds of him beating those federal dog-fighting and conspiracy charges.

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