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Originally published Wednesday, November 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Michael Vick pleads guilty to state dogfighting charge

Michael Vick opened the door to a possible early release from federal prison Tuesday by pleading guilty in Virginia to a state charge of...

Michael Vick opened the door to a possible early release from federal prison Tuesday by pleading guilty in Virginia to a state charge of dogfighting, a necessary step in his quest to return to the NFL.

Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback now serving a 23-month federal term in Leavenworth, Kan., pleaded guilty in Surry County Circuit Court to one count of dogfighting and not guilty to one count of cruelty to animals, which the state then dropped. Circuit Court Judge Samuel Campbell handed down a three-year suspended sentence.

The pleas cleared the only outstanding charges against Vick, a move that could lead to an early release from prison to a halfway house. Federal law prohibits prisoners from being released to a halfway house if they have charges pending. Vick could be released to a federal halfway house up to six months early.

Vick, 28, was sentenced in August 2007 and is scheduled for release on July 20, 2009. He will serve three years of probation.

Vick is expected to apply to commissioner Roger Goodell for reinstatement to NFL. The league suspended him indefinitely in August 2007 when he pleaded guilty to federal charges stemming from a dogfighting ring run from property he owned in rural Virginia.

League officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

"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 Campbell during Tuesday's hearing. Campbell had ordered Vick to appear in court in person because of the public interest in the case.

Vick's mother, Brenda Boddie, his brother Marcus Vick and fiancee, Kijafa Frink, attended the hearing. They had no comment as they left the courtroom. Surry County Commonwealth Attorney Gerald Poindexter hugged Boddie before she left.

Vick's problems have not been confined to the dogfighting charges. He has filed for bankruptcy, having reportedly squandered the money he earned in six seasons in the NFL. Vick was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2001. In 2004 he signed a 10-year, $130 million contract with the Falcons.

His financial problems are part of the reason he is expected to appeal for a speedy return to the NFL.

But Vick will have to persuade Goodell that he deserves reinstatement, which could be a tough sell considering his offenses and the publicity they provoked. At the time, Goodell wrote in a letter to Vick that his actions were "cruel and reprehensible" and that his gambling was a violation of the NFL's personal-conduct policy.

The Humane Society of the United States said it wished that Vick's sentence was stiffer.

"We had hoped that the commonwealth of Virginia would send a stronger message that dogfighting crimes are cruel and unacceptable," Michael Markarian, the executive vice president of the Humane Society, said in a statement.

Information from The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot was used in this story.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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