Father is Prosecuted for Killing the Stranger’s Pitbull that Mutilated his Baby Son

“Court Case Friday”

My next door colleague presided over a difficult case that gained national publicity.

Pitbull Attacks Baby

A father was walking with his two-year-old son on the sidewalk in a strip mall. Outside one of the bars, a man had tied his pitbull to a pole while he went inside.

As the father and toddler approached, the pitbull suddenly lunged at the two-year-old almost ripping his face off. The toddler was rushed to the hospital.  The ER doctor needed over 60 stitches just to control the bleeding.  The child would need extensive plastic surgery to reconstruct his face.

Baby’s Father Attacks Pit Bull

When the mother arrived, the enraged father rushed from the hospital, grabbed a baseball bat, tracked down the pitbull at the bar, and beat it to death.

Father Arrested and Charged with Animal Cruelty

The police arrested the father for felony animal cruelty, and the district attorney filed the charges. The jury trial was assigned to my friend.

Baby Lovers versus Dog Lovers

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I took an informal survey. Those who had children, but no pets, were outraged that the father was being prosecuted at all.  Those with pet dogs, but no children, wanted the father sent to state prison.  Since I love both kids and dogs, I was conflicted.

The national media hyped the case. The judge was flooded with mail.  Dog lovers and animal advocates demanded justiceChild advocates insisted on mercy

My friend was in a very difficult position.  What should the sentence be?

Novel Jury Instruction

At trial, the judge allowed the defense attorney to argue a jury instruction based on an analogous law in Cal. Agriculture Code 31151(b).

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Any person may kill any dog in the following cases:
   …. The person has proof … that the dog has been recently engaged in killing or wounding livestock or poultry on land or premises which are not owned or possessed by the dog’s owner.
   No action, civil or criminal, shall be maintained for the killing of any such dog.

The smart defense lawyer argued: “Since it is lawful to kill a dog that has attacked livestock or poultry, shouldn’t a person be allowed to kill a dog that has viciously attacked a baby?

Verdict and Final Outcome

The jury returned a verdict of “not guilty.”  My friend was off the hook, and avoided a difficult, no-win, sentencing decision.

One of the reasons we have juries is to give a “sense of the community.” Strict adherence to the law is sometimes too harsh. Although this father may have been guilty technically, to find him “guilty” under the circumstances would be unfair.

Sadly, the toddler’s family received so many death threats from animal advocates, that they were forced to move out of the area.

(Other stories: http://www.londonedition.net)

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