November 20, 2007 / 12:59 AM / 10 years ago

Why did fallen hero Vick go to jail early?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Disgraced U.S. football star Michael Vick’s decision to go to jail three weeks early was unusual but likely done to show goodwill and get a jump-start on a long prison term, legal experts said on Tuesday.

Vick, the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback who has pleaded guilty for his role in an illegal dogfighting enterprise, made the unexpected move and surrendered to federal officials on Monday. He will not be formally sentenced until December 10.

“It’s not usually done,” said Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia Law School. “There might be some benefit for him -- his sentence will be served slightly sooner than later.”

Robert Weisberg, director of Stanford University’s Criminal Justice Center, agreed and said that the sooner Vick finishes his jail time, the sooner he might be eligible to play football again.

“He’ll get back into the game a little sooner and maybe the gesture will impress the teams that will consider taking a chance on him,” Weisberg said.

“Maybe he thinks that it might have some impact on the judge,” said Carl Tobias, law professor at University of Richmond.

Vick, who has been suspended indefinitely without pay by the National Football League, may still be able to play when he gets out, if any team wants him.

Vick, who had been one of the NFL’s marquee players, pleaded guilty in August to charges that he took part in an illegal dogfighting enterprise known as Bad Newz Kennels at his home in Surry County, Virginia.

After appearing in court in August, Vick, 27, apologized for his involvement in the dogfighting scheme. His lawyer repeated that apology on Monday after Vick surrendered to U.S. marshals in Virginia and was taken to a jail in Warsaw, Virginia.

Vick’s indictment in July shocked U.S. sports fans because it was a spectacular fall from grace and because dogfighting, in which people bet on pit bulls and other aggressive dogs, is widely reviled for its cruelty.

Vick initially pleaded innocent but then admitted his guilt after reaching an agreement with prosecutors. He faces a maximum sentence of five years but prosecutors have requested a 12- to 18-month prison term.

Vick will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Henry Hudson, who has a reputation of being tough and has warned Vick that he was not bound by prosecutors’ recommendations.

Going to prison early might also establish good behavior that could help Vick get out of prison a little earlier than the official length of his sentence, Weisberg said.

But experts said most likely Vick did it as a gesture of goodwill to federal officials, the NFL and his fans.

“There’s an audience that goes beyond a judge,” Richman said.

Editing by Bill Trott

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