From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2000:
Jail time takes criminals off the streets, but publicizing crimes against animals in hopes that elevated public outrage will put an alleged offender in jail can backfire if other warped and hostile people emulate the offense.
The escalating incidence of young men dragging animals and humans to death behind vehicles offers an apparent example. Most offenders subsequently claim their actions were either accidental or at least unplanned, but in every case known to ANIMAL PEOPLE the circumstances suggest that the likelihood of dragging the victim completely unawares was slight.
Once a common form of lynching, dragging humans to death had seemingly receded into history by 1992, when ANIMAL PEOPLE began tracking crimes against animals and crimes against humans with possible antecedents in animal abuse. The only dragging case of which we had recent record involved a man who “trained” a racehorse by making the horse run behind his truck. The man was obliged to stop by a horseloving police officer before the horse was seriously injured.
Our first formal survey of cruelty sentencing, covering the years 1988-1991, found just one case of animal-dragging, and none of human-dragging, although we would have noted the latter only if there was an animal abuse connection. The inebriated offenders in the animal-dragging case had just watched the 1983 Chevy Chase comedy National Lampoon’s Vacation, in which dragging the family dog to death, not actually shown, is presented as a comic incident.
The most recent previous reference in popular culture to dragging any creature to death was apparently an exchange about dragging humans in the 1973 film American Graffiti, also meant to be comedic––and in that case it was reasonably clear that no one had actually been dragged, or would be.
From 1992 through 1995 ANIMAL PEOPLE recorded 10 cases of animal-dragging, and none of human-dragging.
In 1996, however, there were six cases, several of them nationally publicized. There were 11 cases in 1997, more of which were nationally publicized, and 10 cases in 1998, plus four cases of human-dragging. Two of the human-dragging cases were extensively publicized.
White supremicists John William King, 23, and Lawrence Russell Brewer, 31, drew the death penalty for the June 10, 1998 chain-dragging death of James Byrd Jr., 49, in Jasper, Texas. Shawn Allen Berry, 24, drew life in prison.
To the best of our knowledge, no one was ever apprehended for allegedly grabbing and attempting to manually drag Cornelius Weaver, 23, and Baron Manning, 17. They reported having been assaulted in Illinois and Mississippi, respectively, soon after the Byrd killing.
Carlos Morales, 29, of Mesquite, New Mexico, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the November 1998 dragging death of Faye Smith, 39. Morales––who picked Smith up as a hitchhiker and dragged her for nine miles––contended that he merely pushed her out of his truck because she was inebriated, and did not know she had become entangled in the seatbelt.
1999 brought no new cases of human-dragging, as the 1998 human-dragging cases remained in the headlines, but the number of animal-draggings rose to 15.
Five more cases of animal-dragging occurred in the first two months of 2000––and Jake D. Robel, 6, of Blue Spring, Missouri, was dragged to death during an 80-mile-anhour hot pursuit through nearby Independence, also after becoming entangled in a seatbelt while being pushed from a vehicle just stolen from his mother. Kim L. Davis, 34, of Kansas City, was on February 23 charged with second-degree murder, robbery, child abuse, and kidnapping.
The increasing numbers of dragging cases have come even though convicted draggers of both animals and humans have consistently received stiff sentences, as cruelty sentencing goes––and the penalties are becoming more stringent:
Cases Jail days Susp. Fine Restitution Service Probation
9/1991-96 128 4 $666 $451 56 hr. 203 days
9/1997-99 393 71 $603 $616 4 hr. 167 days
Animal-draggers convicted 1991-1996 drew three times as many jail days as other people convicted of violent cruelty––and over the past three years are receiving triple the jail time meted out previously.
Tripling their jail time coincided with reductions of fines, community service, and probation, apparently because ––as Los Angeles city attorney Bob Ferber explains ( a r t i c l e above)––judges typically see fines, community service and probation as alternatives to jail, not as add-ons to a jail sentence.