Vick Pleads Guilty, Speeding His Route to an NFL Return

Former NFL quarterback Michael Vick pleaded guilty Tuesday to a state dogfighting charge, a move that could make him eligible to leave prison early and potentially speed up a return to pro football.

The plea comes as his old team, the Atlanta Falcons (as well as his old fans) are increasingly embracing an unexpectedly successful post-Vick Falcons team.

Vick, 28, arrived wearing wrist and ankle shackles, but they were removed by the time he entered the courtroom. The former star also pleaded not guilty to a count of cruelty to animals, but that count was dropped under his plea deal.

Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, brother Marcus Vick and fiancee Kijafa Frink walked in together and sat together in the front row of the gallery with other family and friends.

After the hearing, Surry County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter approached Vick's mother and hugged her, saying, "At least some of this is over."

Vick already is serving a 23-month sentence in Leavenworth, Kan. for bankrolling a dogfighting operation at a home he owned in eastern Virginia's rural Surry County, southeast of Richmond.

He's scheduled for release on July 20, 2009, and will serve three years of probation. The latest plea is important because it resolves the remaining charges against him, which is required under federal law if he is to move into a halfway house. He received a three-year suspended sentence Tuesday.

Vick was expressionless for most of the hearing, but did offer an apology.

"I want to apologize to the court, my family, and to all the kids who looked up to me as a role model," Vick told the judge.

Since the conviction, he has landed in bankruptcy court after losing nearly all of his record-breaking $130 million from a 10-year deal he signed with Atlanta in December 2004.

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