RICHMOND, Va. Two of fallen NFL star Michael Vick's co-defendants were sentenced Friday to 18 months and 21 months in prison on federal dogfighting conspiracy charges.
Quanis Phillips of Atlanta and Purnell Peace of Virginia Beach could have received up to five years in prison the same maximum Vick faces when he is sentenced Dec. 10.
Peace, Phillips and Tony Taylor of Hampton pleaded guilty last summer and agreed to testify against Vick, prompting the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback to enter his own plea agreement a few days later. Taylor will be sentenced Dec. 14.
"You may have thought this was sporting, but it was very callous and cruel," U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson told Phillips, who received the longer sentence.
Sentencing guidelines called for punishments of 12 to 18 months for Peace and 18 to 24 months for Phillips, who has a more extensive criminal record. Both men also were fined $250 and will be placed on three years' probation after their release.
Prosecutors recommended sentences at the low end of the range because of the co-defendants' cooperation. But with Vick attorney Lawrence Woodward watching in the packed courtroom, Hudson said he felt sentences on the high end were appropriate because of the nature of the crime.
Hudson told Peace that he was concerned because a pre-sentencing report quoted Peace as saying he saw he nothing wrong with dogfighting.
"I am very sorry," Peace told the judge as he tried to fight back tears and family members in the courtroom softly wept.
Phillips declined an offer to address the court. His attorney, Jeffrey Swartz, later told reporters Phillips was "nervous and decided not to speak," so he did the talking for him.
Swartz told the judge Phillips was remorseful and would be willing to "help address the issue of dogfighting" as part of his probation.
"That's going to have to flow from the heart, not an order from me," Hudson said.
Swartz also explained how Phillips got involved in the enterprise, tracing it to when Phillips moved to Vick's hometown of Newport News at age 10.
"He grew up around people for whom dogfighting was an accepted and acceptable activity," Swartz told Hudson. "It was a way for young men to prove themselves."
Swartz said he was not trying to excuse the behavior, which Phillips now realizes was wrong.
All four men also face state charges, and Swartz told Hudson that "I still have to shake my head and wonder a little bit about the federal government's decision to prosecute this case."
Federal prosecutors refused to comment as they left the courthouse, where several protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals gathered holding posters with pictures of injured dogs.
Woodward and Taylor's attorney, Claire Cardwell, also left without answering reporters' questions.
According to court papers, Vick financed virtually the entire "Bad Newz Kennels" dogfighting enterprise at his 15-acre property in Surry County in rural southeastern Virginia and participated in executing several underperforming dogs by drowning, hanging and other means.
Vick publicly apologized for his role in the dogfighting operation and turned himself in Nov. 19 to begin serving his prison term early. He is being held in a state jail in Warsaw, Va.The case began in April when a drug investigation of a Vick relative led authorities to the Surry County property, where they found dozens of pit bulls and an assortment of dogfighting paraphernalia.
Associated Press Writer Zinie Chen Sampson contributed to this report.