SUSSEX, Va. -- Michael Vick and three co-defendants were indicted by a grand jury Tuesday on state charges related to a dogfighting ring operated on Vick's Virginia property.
Vick, who already pleaded guilty in federal court to a dogfighting conspiracy charge and is awaiting sentencing Dec. 10, was indicted on one count of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Each count is a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The grand jury declined to indict the Atlanta Falcons quarterback and two co-defendants on eight counts of animal cruelty, which would have exposed them to as many as 40 years in prison if convicted.
Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter asked that the four be arraigned Oct. 3 and requested that each be released on a $50,000 personal recognizance bond. None of the defendants nor their lawyers were in court.
The charges are the first leveled against Vick in the county where he built a home on 15 acres that was the base of the dogfighting operation.
The grand jury - made up of two black men, two black women and two white women - met for more than three hours.
"These are serious charges, and we can assure you that this grand jury was not driven by racial prejudice, their affection or lack of affection for professional athletes, or the influence of animal rights activists and the attendant publicity," Sheriff Harold Brown and Poindexter said in a joint statement.
Poindexter said he was not disappointed that the grand jury passed on the animal cruelty charges.
"I'm just glad to get this to the position where it is now and one day in the not too distant future, we will be rid of these cases," he said.
Pressed on whether he presented evidence about Vick confessing to the killings, Poindexter said "these are secret proceedings," adding he was sure it was put to the grand jury. However, Poindexter said he didn't know what testimony was given, because he was not present when witnesses testified.
In a written plea for the federal case, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight dogs at the property. Similarly, his three co-defendants have admitted their involvement and detailed what they claim was Vick's role.
For county law enforcement officials, who started the investigation with a raid on Vick's property in late April, those signed statements provided ample evidence to support further prosecution.
As was Vick, co-defendant Purnell Peace was indicted on one count of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting. Quanis Phillips was indicted on one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting. But Tony Taylor faces four counts - three counts of beating or killing or causing dogs to fight other dogs and one count of engaging in or promoting dogfighting.
A defense attorney at the courthouse Tuesday said he was "befuddled" when he learned the grand jury had passed on the animal cruelty charges.
"There's something going on here that I don't understand," said Joe Pennington of Norfolk, who does not represent any of the parties. "The grand jury is generally regarded by defense attorneys as a rubber stamp."
The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's property and seized dozens of dogs, most of them pit bulls, and equipment commonly associated with dogfighting.
Six weeks later, with the local investigation perceived to be dragging and a search warrant allowed to expire, federal agents arrived with their own search warrants and started digging up dog carcasses buried days before the first raid.
Poindexter, widely criticized for the pace of the investigation, reacted angrily when the feds moved in, suggesting that Vick's celebrity was a draw, or that their pursuit of the case could have racial overtones. He later eased off those comments, saying the sides would simply be pursuing parallel investigations.
Vick, who faces up to five years in federal prison, has been indefinitely suspended without pay by the NFL and been dropped by all his major sponsors, including Nike.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press.