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Vick Pleads Innocent in Dogfighting Case; Leave Dead Dogs Where They Lie

RICHMOND, Va. — While his Atlanta Falcons teammates reported to training camp without him, Michael Vick declared his innocence on federal dogfighting charges Thursday and said he looked forward to “clearing my good name.”

Jeered by hundreds of protesters as he entered and left U.S. District Court in silence, the Atlanta Falcons quarterback said “not guilty” in a firm voice when asked how he pleaded to a conspiracy charge. When U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson asked his preference for a trial, Vick responded “by jury.” Hudson set a Nov. 26 date for Vick and his three co-defendants, all of whom also pleaded not guilty.

Vick was released without bond, but with a series of conditions, 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 a dog.

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

He and the others face up to five years in prison and fines of $250,000 if convicted on all charges.

The allegations detailed in a gruesome indictment have sparked protests by animal-rights groups at the headquarters of the NFL and the Falcons. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell barred Vick from attending training camp while the league investigates.

Following the arraignment, Vick climbed into a white sport utility vehicle and rode away, leaving behind his lawyer, Billy Martin, to read a statement on his behalf _ his first public comments on the indictment.

“I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name,” it said. “I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown.”

Vick’s mother, Brenda Boddie, stood by Martin’s side as he spoke.

“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,” the statement said. He also apologized to his teammates for not being with them for the start of training camp.

Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the team wanted to suspend Vick for four games, the maximum penalty a team can assess a player, but the NFL asked him to wait. Instead, Blank has told the player to concentrate on his legal problems, not football.

“This is going to be a hard-fought trial,” said 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 case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at a massive home Vick built in rural Surry County found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment typically used in dogfighting. They included a “rape stand” that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a “breakstick” used to pry open a dog’s mouth.

The former Virginia Tech star contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely visited. He also blamed friends and family members for taking advantage of his generosity and pledged to be more scrupulous.

According to the 18-page indictment filed July 17, dogs not killed in the fighting pit were often shot, hanged, drowned or, in one case, slammed to the ground. The document says Vick was consulted before one losing dog was wet down and electrocuted.

It alleges that the dogfighting operation began in 2001, not long after Vick was the first overall selection in the NFL draft. His first contract was for $62 million. In 2004, he signed a 10-year, $130 million deal, then the richest in league history.

The indictment says the fights offered purses as high as $26,000, and that Vick once paid $23,000 to the owner of two pit bulls that had beaten Bad Newz Kennels dogs.

That owner is one of four cooperating witnesses cited in the document.

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