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Codefendant pleads guilty, singles out Vick

Taylor says in court papers that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback financed the dogfighting enterprise that brought federal indictment.

July 31, 2007|Veronica Gorley Chufo and Alicia P.Q. Wittmeyer | Newport News Daily Press

RICHMOND, VA. — Tony Taylor of Hampton, Va., a codefendant in the Michael Vick dogfighting case, pleaded guilty Monday and said in court papers that the Atlanta Falcons quarterback bankrolled almost the entire operation.

What that means for Vick depends on what the other defendants decide to do next, said Carl Tobias, a University of Richmond law professor. The more codefendants who plead guilty, the worse it looks for those who are still holding off on a deal, Tobias said.

"The thing to watch is whether the two other defendants decide to plead," Tobias said.

"We haven't had those discussions," said Jeffrey Swartz, one of the attorneys representing another codefendant, Quanis Phillips of Atlanta. "We're working on the case and waiting to see discovery [pretrial evidence] from the government."

An attorney for a third co-defendant, Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach, Va., did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Taylor's plea is "not going to affect the way Michael Vick's attorneys are going to be handling his case," said Collins Spencer III, who's handling public relations for Vick's defense team.

Vick, in an interview with an Atlanta radio station, thanked his supporters and said he was in "a crisis situation."

"But I'm going to get through it and I feel, by the grace of God, that's the only way," Vick said. "I believe in the outcome at the end, and that's why I put my faith in the man upstairs."

He lamented missing out on Falcons practices -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has banned him from training camp while the league investigates -- and hopes for a future with the team.

"I know I put the city through a lot," Vick said. "My owner, Arthur Blank, who I love, sincerely, I put him through a lot. It hurts me to put him through this situation."

Vick, 27, Taylor, 34, Phillips, 28, and Peace, 35, were charged July 17 with conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture. If convicted, they each face up to five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

Last Thursday, all four pleaded not guilty. A day later, Taylor's lawyer, Stephen A. Hudgins of Newport News, Va., made an appointment for a plea hearing in front of U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson. On Monday, Hudson accepted Taylor's guilty plea.

Taylor's decision "is probably making plenty of people nervous right now," said Paul Marcus, a law professor at the College of William & Mary and author of "The Prosecution and Defense of Criminal Conspiracy Cases."

Marcus said Taylor might have taken a plea simply to avoid a high-profile trial because he is guilty and wants to come clean or because he believes the evidence against him is too strong to fight.

Another possibility, Marcus said, is that prosecutors offered Taylor a beneficial plea deal because he has offered to testify against Vick and the other two codefendants.

Attorney James D. "Butch" Williams has joined the five-person team working on Vick's case. Williams represented the unindicted captain of the Duke lacrosse team in the recent rape case.

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