by John Rutherford, Washington D.C. producer
Reporters, spectators, and courtroom sketch artists begin arriving at 4 a.m. to get in line for one of the 100 coveted courtroom seats for Michael Vick's plea hearing at 10:30 am.
By the time I arrive at 6:30, 30 people are already ahead of me along the side of the federal courthouse in Richmond. About two dozen television satellite trucks are parked behind the courthouse for liveshots. PETA protestors begin congregating across Main Street from the front of the courthouse to howl at Vick when he arrives to plead guilty to the dog fighting charges.
At 9:50 a.m., we begin filling into courtroom 339, an ornate, dark-paneled chamber. Vick and his lawyer Billy Martin arrive at 10:25. The room hushes. Dressed in dark grey suit, white shirt, and yellow tie, Vick looked nervous.
Three minutes later, Judge Henry Hudson enters. He's bald, regal looking. He gets right down to business. The Richmond court is known as "rocket docket" for good reason. He goes through charges against Vick. Vick, standing and flanked by lawyers, answers "Yes, sir" or "No, sir" in low tone to judge's questions. He formally pleads guilty to dog fighting conspiracy charge. Hudson says he's not bound by the recommended 12-18 month prison sentence.
"You will have to live with what I decide," he tells Vick. Judge Hudson sets sentencing for 10 a.m., Dec. 10. It was only 18 minutes from beginning to end.
Afterwards, Vick looked lost in courtroom. He stands, sits, stands again. He turns to family members sitting right behind him. Press people are escorted out of courtroom.
Outside, PETA protestors still massed across street. One placard reads, "All Dogs Go To Heaven. Will Michael Vick?"
Billy Martin speaks briefly to cameras behind courthouse. Says he hopes Judge Hudson saw the real Michael Vick and will "get it right" on Dec. 10.
Half an hour later, Vick himself steps before the cameras at nearby Omni Hotel. It was hard to hear over clicking still cameras. He gave a complete mea culpa. He says he's ashamed and disappointed in himself. He apologizes to young kids for his "immature acts" and says he needs to grow up. He takes full responsibility and cites bad judgment. He calls dog fighting a "terrible thing" and asks for forgiveness.
He says he's turning himself over to God and walks off stage without taking questions.