- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

RICHMOND — One of Michael Vick’s co-defendants pleaded guilty yesterday to federal dogfighting conspiracy charges and agreed to fully cooperate with the government in its prosecution of the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and two other men.

Tony Taylor, 34, who will be sentenced Dec. 14, said he was not promised any specific sentence in return for his cooperation.

Vick has pleaded not guilty to charges of sponsoring a dogfighting operation.

His co-defendant, Taylor, faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, but federal sentencing guidelines likely will call for less. The guideline range will be determined by the court’s probation office, and U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson can depart from that range if he finds aggravating or mitigating circumstances.

“You’re pleading guilty and taking your chances, right?” Judge Hudson asked Taylor.

Taylor responded, “Yes.”

Taylor had the same answer when Judge Hudson asked: “You have agreed to cooperate fully with the United States, is that right?”

Taylor, of Hampton, Va., entered his plea to conspiracy to travel in interstate commerce in aid of unlawful activities and conspiring to sponsor a dog in an animal-fighting venture.

Vick and two other co-defendants pleaded not guilty last week to the same charges.

The written plea agreement requires Taylor to “testify truthfully and completely at any grand juries, trials or other proceedings.” It says any truthful information provided by Taylor cannot form the basis of a stiffer sentence or additional charges.

Prosecutors have said a superseding indictment will be issued next month, which could mean more charges against Vick and the remaining co-defendants.

Taylor and his attorney, Stephen A. Hudgins of Newport News, Va., refused to answer reporters’ questions as they left the federal courthouse after the 15-minute hearing.

In Atlanta yesterday, NAACP leaders urged public restraint in judging Vick before he has his day in court.

R.L. White, president of the Atlanta chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said he has been vilified by animal rights groups, talk radio and the press and has been prematurely punished by his team and corporate sponsors.

“If Mr. Vick is guilty, he should pay for his crime. But to treat him as he is being treated now is also a crime,” Mr. White said at a press conference. “Be restrained in your premature judgment until the legal process is completed.”

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