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No deal yet in Vick dogfighting conspiracy case

RICHMOND, Va. - Michael Vick and his attorneys were still negotiating with federal prosecutors Thursday, hoping to strike a deal on a plea agreement, according to a lawyer familiar with the case.

The lawyer spoke on condition of anonymity to The Associated Press because of the ongoing discussions.

The Atlanta Falcons star quarterback pleaded not guilty to dogfighting conspiracy charges last month. But since then, one of his co-defendants has changed his plea to guilty and agreed to testify against Vick, and two others are scheduled to do likewise today.

Prosecutors, meantime, have said they will seek a superseding indictment this month. Legal experts say the growing parade of prosecution witnesses and the prospect of additional charges increases the pressure on Vick to negotiate a deal.

Collins R. Spencer III, spokesman for Vick's five-member defense team, declined to comment. Vick is scheduled to go to trial Nov. 26.

It's highly unlikely prosecutors would offer Vick a specific reduced sentence in exchange for a guilty plea, according to Steven Benjamin, a prominent Richmond defense attorney. He said federal rules permit such agreements, subject to the judge's approval, but they simply are not used in the Richmond federal court.

'If we were to see that in this case, it would be extraordinary,' he said.

Instead, prosecutors sometimes offer concessions that would result in a lower range under federal sentencing guidelines, Benjamin said. For example, prosecutors could pledge not to take the position that Vick was a leader of the dogfighting ring.

'If the judge accepted that finding, it would have the effect of reducing his sentencing guideline range,' Benjamin said.

A number of other factors are considered in determining that range, including the defendant's sincerity in accepting responsibility and the extent of his cooperation with the government in ongoing investigations, Benjamin said.

Rough calculations based on what is known in Vick's case indicate that a guideline range of eight to 12 months 'would not be unrealistic,' said Benjamin's law partner, Betty Layne Desportes. The charges - conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal fighting venture - carry a maximum prison term of five years and a $250,000 fine.

Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty to those charges last month and will be sentenced Dec. 14. Co-defendants Purnell Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach, and Quanis Phillips, 28, of Atlanta, will enter plea agreements Friday morning.

According to the statement signed by Taylor as part of his plea agreement, Vick financed virtually all of the 'Bad Newz Kennels' dogfighting enterprise on Vick's property in Surry County, Va.

Taylor's statement and the July 17 indictment also linked Vick to betting on the dogfights, which could result in a lifetime ban from the NFL under the league's policy against gambling.