RICHMOND, Va. &

Standing erect and answering questions with soft, short responses, NFL star Michael Vick pleaded guilty Monday to a federal dogfighting charge and awaited a Dec. 10 sentencing date that could send him to prison.




The plea by the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback was accepted by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, who asked: "Are you entering the plea of guilty to a conspiracy charge because you are in fact guilty?"




Vick replied, "Yes, sir."




Hudson emphasized during the 15-minute hearing that he is not bound by sentencing guidelines and can impose the maximum sentence of up to five years in prison.




"You're taking your chances here. You'll have to live with whatever decision I make," Hudson.




Vick's lead attorney, Billy Martin, said his client would discuss his plea at a news conference.




In his written plea filed in federal court Friday, Vick admitted helping kill six to eight pit bulls and supplying money for gambling on the fights. He said he did not personally place any bets or share in any winnings.




The NFL suspended him indefinitely and without pay Friday after his plea agreement was filed. Merely associating with gamblers can trigger a lifetime ban under the league's personal conduct policy.




Federal prosecutors recommended 12-18 months in prison.




"A first-time offender might well receive no jail time for this offense," U.S. Attorney Chuck Rosenberg said in a statement. "We thought, however, that the conduct in this conspiracy was heinous, cruel and inhumane" so three of the four defendants, including Vick, should receive harsher sentences.




The first defendant to plead guilty left the conspiracy in 2004 and is not as culpable, he said.




The case began in late April when authorities conducting a drug investigation of Vick's cousin raided the former Virginia Tech star's rural Surry County property and seized dozens of dogs, some injured, and equipment commonly used in dogfighting.