Retired judge asks Texas lawmakers to ban pit bulls after two deaths in 15 days
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November/December 2010:
TYLER, Texas–Two pit bull terrier attack fatalities in 15
days appear to have put momentum behind retired Tyler district judge
Cynthia Stevens Kent’s campaign to ban pit bull terriers in the state
Both fatalities came within 20 miles of Tyler. Both came
after Kent in September 2010 won a record $7 million liability award
in another local fatal attack case, and after repeated courtroom
failures of Lillian’s Law, a “punish the deed not the breed” statute
passed by the Texas legislature in 2007.
Kaden Muckleroy, age 2, of Henderson in Rusk County, was
killed on November 10, 2010 while playing on a swing set behind his
grandparents’ house when one of 30 to 40 dogs on the premises broke
his chain and attacked.
The pit bull who killed Kaden Muckleroy was a favorite of the
victim and had often played with him, his grandmother Nettie
Muckleroy told Robyn Claridy of the Longview News-Journal. The dog
originally belonged to the victim’s uncle, Kelvin Muckleroy Jr.,
33, but was impounded after Kelvin Muckleroy Jr. was found shot to
death in a burning house in nearby Longview in October 2009. Toronto
“Trigger” Lockridge is charged with murder and arson in the case,
and an alleged accomplice, Brandon “Bull” Horne, is charged with
Kaden Muckleroy’s grandfather, Kelvin Muckleroy, reportedly
paid the pound fees to retrieve the dog after Kelvin Muckleroy Jr.
was murdered. The dog was the third from a shelter known to have
killed a person in 2010. The other shelter dogs who killed a person
included another pit bull and a Rottweiler. Dogs released from
shelters killed six people in 2000-2009, none in 1990-1999, and two
Kaden Muckleroy’s cousin, Emily Fenison, 18, visited the
family after his death, then hanged herself in Carthage that
evening, but Panola County officials said they believed her suicide
was for unrelated reasons.
The Muckleroy family surrendered most of their dogs to the
Henderson Animal Shelter. About a third to half were pit bulls or
pit mixes, said shelter supervisor Ronnie Whittington. “There were
some puppies that we were able to save,” Whittington told Tyler
Morning Telegraph staff writer Kenneth Dean, but most were
euthanized due to conditions allegedly resulting from chronic neglect
of their health.
On Thanksgiving evening, Nov-ember 25, two pit bulls
belonging to Kathy Rogers and Michael Miller of Canton escaped from
their home and attacked a border collie outside the home of Richard
Martratt, 64, Van Zandt county sheriff Pat Burnett told media.
Martratt’s mother-in-law Joan Hardin, 78, tried to stop the fight
but was knocked down by one of the pit bulls and suffered a head
injury, Burnett said. Martratt cut that pit bull’s throat with a
pocket knife, but the dog bit Hardin’s son Alan Hardin, 50, before
dying. As emergency medical personnel arrived to help Joan Hardin,
Martratt suffered a fatal heart attack.
Representing bereaved mother Serena Clinton, Kent won the
record jury award of $7 million against pit bull terrier owners Rick
and Christi George of Leveritt’s Chapel in Rusk County for allowing
their two dogs to escape and kill skateboarder Justin Clinton, 10,
on June 15, 2009.
However, Kent wrote in a November 11, 2010 open letter to
Texas legislators, “The owners had no home owner’s insurance and our
client will likely never see a dime, even toward Justin’s funeral
expenses. Not that money could ever bring a dead child back to life,
but this fact just added insult to injury to the Clinton family.
“In 2007 the legislature attempted to address the dog attack
problem with Lillian’s Law,” Rusk recalled. “However, this
legislation has such serious drawbacks that prosecutors often use
another portion of the penal code rather than jump through the
Lillian’s Law hoops.”
Fannin County Judge Lauri Blake in January 2010 ruled that
Lillian’s Law is unconstitutionally vague, dismissing all charges
against John Hardy Taylor. Two of four pit bulls whom Hardy was
transporting in an open vehicle in August 2008 leaped out to attack
an 11-year-old girl and a 44-year-old woman in downtown Bonham.
Hardy was believed to be the first person to be charged with a felony
under Lillian’s Law.
Despite Blake’s ruling, Nancy Hayes, 30, of Arlington,
was in April 2010 charged under Lillian’s Law after her two pit bulls
escaped from her home and mauled Robert Wallis, 66. One of the dogs
was declared to be dangerous and required to be kept under restraint
after attacking another man without provocation in June 2009. The
dog was impounded in March 2009 because Hayes had moved without
informing the city of the dog’s new residence, but was returned to
Hayes after she paid a fine.
After the attack on Wallis a Thanksgiving 2009 bite by the
same dog was reported by a neighbor.
Hayes reportedly plea-bargained four years on probation in August 2010.
Lillian’s Law was named after Lillian Stiles, 76, who was
killed in November 2005 while working in her garden in Milam County.
The law cleared the Texas legislature and was signed into law by the
governor soon after Amber Jones, 10, of San Antonio, freed a pit
bull whose collar was caught in a chain link fence and was killed by
the dog seconds later.
California dog law attorney Kenneth Phillips predicted when
Lillian’s Law passed that it would prove ineffective both in
preventing dog attacks and in winning felony convictions after severe
Lillian’s Law “increases the jail time for owners who fail to
reasonably secure their dogs, resulting in serious bodily injury or
death. The new law will do absolutely nothing for victims, however,
who will have to pay their own medical bills, will receive nothing
to minimize the effect of their scars, and will not be compensated
for pain, suffering, lost income, loss of earning capacity,
disability or anything else,” Phillips posted to his web site
“There are three glaring errors in Lillian’s Law,” Phillips
continued. “The first one preserves the defense that enabled Jose
Hernandez to escape conviction for the death of Lillian Stiles
herself. Conviction is not possible unless there is proof beyond a
reasonable doubt that the dog owner knew or should have known that
his dog was going to cause death or severe bodily injury. In the
Lillian Stiles case, Hernandez convinced the jury that he did not
have the necessary culpability because he was unaware that his six
pit bull/Rottweiler mixes were dangerous.
“Secondly,” Phillips said, “Lillian’s Law deals only with a
dog running at large, or a dangerous dog who is not confined. If
one of those conditions are not met, the law does not apply.”
Finally, Lillian’s Law “requires proof that the dog already
had its ‘one free bite.’ This,” Phillip opined, is “more
restrictive than the common law doctrine established by English
judges in the 1600s. Under the ‘one bite rule,’ there is no
automatic defense,” Phillips explained, “if the vicious dog is in
Texas state law presently prohibits cities and counties from
enacting ordinances that prohibit specific dog breeds, but the city
of Garland in May 2010 adopted an ordinance requiring that pit bulls
be kept behind six-foot fences, effective on August 1, 2010. The
ordinance has not yet been tested in court.