RICHMOND, Va. - Michael Vick pleaded not guilty yesterday to federal dogfighting charges and was released without bond until a Nov. 26 trial.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback then apologized to his mother and asked that judgment be withheld.
Vick was jeered by a crowd as he went into court. He and three others entered their pleas in U.S. District Court to conspiracy charges involving competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines. Federal prosecutors say the operation - known as Bad Newz Kennels - was run on Vick's property in Surry County.
"I take these charges very seriously and look forward to clearing my good name," Vick said in a statement read outside court by Billy Martin, his lawyer.
"I respectfully ask all of you to hold your judgment until all of the facts are shown. Above all, I would like to say to my mom I'm sorry for what she has had to go through in this most trying of times. It has caused pain to my family and I apologize to my family."
Among the conditions set for all the defendants is that they surrender their passports, that they not travel outside their immediate area without court approval, and that they do not sell or possess any dog. In addition, Vick was ordered to surrender any animal breeder or kennel license.
"He asserted in a loud and clear voice that he is not guilty of these allegations," Martin said. "This is going to be a hard-fought trial."
The allegations detailed in a graphic, 18-page indictment sparked protests by animal-rights groups at the headquarters of the NFL and the Falcons. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from training camp, which opened yesterday, while the league investigates.
Falcons owner Arthur Blank said the team wanted to suspend Vick for four games, the maximum penalty a team can assess a player, but the NFL asked him to wait.
The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at the home found 66 dogs, including 55 pit bulls, and equipment typically used in dogfighting. They included a "rape stand" that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating.
Vick contended he knew nothing about a dogfighting operation at the home, where one of his cousins lived, and said he rarely visited. He has since declined comment, citing his lawyer's advice.
Charged along with Vick are Purnell A. Peace, 35, of Virginia Beach; Quanis L. Phillips, 28, of Atlanta; and Tony Taylor, 34, of Hampton. They all face up to six years in prison, $350,000 in fines, and restitution if convicted.
According to the indictment filed July 17, dogs not killed in the fighting pit were often shot, hanged, drowned or, in one case, slammed to the ground.