0

Vick claims innocence
Falcons star pleads not guilty to dogfighting charges

RICHMOND, Va. - Barred by the NFL from reporting to work with the Atlanta Falcons, Michael Vick declared his innocence on federal dogfighting charges Thursday and asked the public to hold its judgment 'until all the facts are shown.'

Lustily jeered by hundreds of protesters as he entered and left U.S. District Court, Vick strolled in stony silence and did his only talking inside the courtroom, where his career as a superstar quarterback and his freedom are jeopardized.

Inside, his most important words were a firm 'not guilty' when asked how he pleaded to a charge of conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities, and 'by jury' when U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson asked his preference for a trial. Hudson set a Nov. 26 trial date for Vick and his three co-defendants, all of whom pleaded not guilty and asked for a jury trial. Hudson set aside two weeks.

'This is going to be a hard-fought trial,' said Billy Martin, one of five lawyers retained by Vick. 'We are conducting our own investigation, we will look into these allegations and we look forward to the opportunity to being able to walk inside this courtroom saying to the world that Michael Vick is innocent.'

The 18-page indictment also lists a charge for sponsoring a dog in an animal fighting venture, but U.S. Attorney Michael Gill said the first charge supercedes it.

The four either face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $250,000 if convicted on the Travel Act violation, a felony, or one year in prison and up to $100,000 in fines if convicted on the charge of using a dog in a fighting venture.

Following the arraignment, Vick climbed into a white sport utility vehicle outside as a crowd of several hundred jeered, some yelling 'you are not a role model.' Others expressed their support for the 27-year-old Newport News, Va., native, who became a star in two dazzling seasons as the quarterback at Virginia Tech.

Martin read a statement outside court in which Vick asserted his innocence and apologized to his mother and family for causing them pain, and to the Falcons for not being with them as they opened their first training camp under new coach Bobby Petrino.

'I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name,' Vick said in the statement. Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, stood by Martin's side as he spoke.

'I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown. Above all, I would like to say to my mom I'm sorry for what she has had to go through in this most trying of times. It has caused pain to my family and I apologize to my family.'

The lawyers did not take questions.

Vick was released without bond, but with a series of conditions to meet, including the surrender of his passport, a pledge not to travel outside the immediate area of his primary residence without court approval, and to not sell or possess any dog.

Vick also was ordered to surrender any animal breeder or kennel licenses.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from attending training camp while the league investigates.