RICHMOND, Va. – The Michael Vick dogfighting case made its way to the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday when its most senior member publicly declared his outrage, saying he's witnessed one execution but wouldn't mind seeing another "if it involves this cruel, sadistic, cannibalistic business of training innocent, vulnerable creatures to kill."
The strong words from Sen. Robert Byrd, D-WV, widely known for his devotion to animals, come as dogfighting controversy swirls around the Atlanta Falcons star quarterback. Vick and three others were indicted earlier this week on felony charges of competitive dogfighting, procuring and training pit bulls for fighting, and conducting the enterprise across state lines.
The dogs were housed, trained and fought at a property owned by Vick in Surry County, Va., under an outfit named "Bad Newz Kennels," the indictment says.
Among the grisly findings: Losing dogs either died in the pit or were electrocuted, drowned, hanged or shot. The indictment said purses climbed as high as $20,000 for fights.
Byrd called the activities described in the Vick case "sadistic" and "barbaric." At one point, Byrd began shouting and pumping his fist.
"Barbaric!," he yelled. "Let that word resounding from hill to hill, and from mountain to mountain, and valley to valley across the broad land. Barbaric! Barbaric! May God help those poor souls who'd be so cruel. Barbaric! Hear me! Barbaric!"
Byrd, 89, said he would not prejudge the men's guilt or innocence, but he left no doubts about his sentiments.
"I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt," he said.
"One is left wondering," he said. "Who are the real animals: the creatures inside or outside the ring?"
Meanwhile, the Falcons owner and CEO released his first public statement on the matter Thursday, saying he was "working diligently on exploring our options" on the indicted quarterback.
"This situation affects everyone — our club, our players and associates, our sponsors, our fans and the Atlanta community among them — so we must consider all of our customers in making any decisions," Arthur Blank said in a statement. "Given the differing perspectives and strong feelings around this issue, we probably won't make everyone happy, but we are committed to doing the right thing."
Blank added that he was "saddened and distressed about this — not for myself, for our fans and community who have been so loyal to us."
ESPN reported that Vick had called Blank, and said sources believed Vick to have been contrite, apologetic and grateful for Blank's support.
Vick's legal troubles prompted Nike to suspend the release of its latest product line named after him.
Nike told retailers it will not release a fifth signature shoe, the Air Zoom Vick V, this summer. Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said the four shoe products and three shirts that currently bear Vick's name will remain in stores.
That news comes on the heels of a statement from the Humane Society of the United States calling upon Nike to pull its Vick clothing and shoes from retailers and from its Web site. It also called upon NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to suspend Vick.
Vick and the three associates are set to appear in Richmond July 26 for bond hearings and arraignments on charges contained in a detailed, 18-page indictment. Conviction carries up to six years in prison, fines of $350,000 and restitution.
But after the hearing, Vick will likely rejoin the Falcons as he awaits his court date. After consulting with the Falcons, Goodell and top league officials agreed Wednesday to let Vick play as the legal process determines the facts.
The NFL players' union took the same stance as the league.
"It's unfortunate that Michael Vick is in this position, as these allegations are extremely disturbing and offensive," the union said in a statement. "This case is now in the hands of the judicial system, and we have to allow the legal process to run its course. However, we recognize Michael still has the right to prove his innocence. Hopefully, these allegations are untrue and Michael will be able to continue his NFL career."
Goodell and Blank say they met individually with Vick in May after the investigation started, telling him to straighten up or risk discipline.
Blank said he "could not have been more stern" in telling Vick that he represents himself, the franchise and the league and needs to do it right.
"They both challenged me to be more accountable in all areas of my life. I know I need to make some changes around me to make sure that the people in my life have my best interest at heart," Vick said at the time. "My goal is to not let my fans, my teammates or my coaches down."
The Falcons signed Vick to a 10-year, $130 million contract in December 2004. He has been paid about $44 million, including $37 million in guaranteed bonuses, and is due to earn a base salary of $6 million this season.
Teams can amortize the salary cap implications of signing bonuses, but if a player is cut, all bonuses paid but not yet factored into the salary cap must be accounted for within two years.
The Falcons face an estimated salary cap hit of about $6 million this year and $15 million in 2008 if they release Vick — devastating hits to any team's budget.
FOX News' Trish Turner, Michael De Dora Jr. and The Associated Press contributed to this report.