By Hank Kurz Jr.
RICHMOND, Va. - Amid boos from spectators, NFL star Michael Vick arrived at a federal courthouse Thursday to answer accusations that he was involved in a brutal dogfighting operation.
The Atlanta Falcons quarterback was to appear at a bond hearing and enter a plea on dogfighting conspiracy charges. He said nothing as he walked into the courthouse, which was lined by spectators who began gathering at dawn.
Vick arrived at 3 p.m. in a black sport utility vehicle and was booed by a crowd of hundreds. Vick looked straight ahead as he walked up the ramp to the courthouse.
Vick is accused with three others of conspiracy involving competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines. Federal prosecutors allege the operation - known as Bad Newz Kennels - operated on Vick's property in Surry County.
The allegations detailed in a graphic, 18-page indictment sparked protests by animal rights groups at the headquarters of the NFL and the Falcons.
The case began April 25 when investigators conducting a drug search at the property 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 and a "breakstick" used to pry open a dog's mouth.
Animal rights organizations have seized this opportunity to raise awareness of the largely underground and always gruesome world of dogfighting, where two dogs are trained to fight to the death - sometimes for hours - until the end.
Early Thursday, activists, Vick fans and the media gathered outside the federal courthouse. Some members of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals dressed in dog costumes and carried signs. Some people brought their dogs.
According to the indictment filed July 17, dogs not killed in the fighting pit often were shot, hanged, drowned or, in one case, slammed to the ground. The document alleges that Vick was consulted before one losing dog was wet down and electrocuted.