Quebec judge promises “severe, maybe even exemplary” sentence
MONTREAL, MEMPHIS, RALEIGH-DURHAM, SAN ANTONIO––Convicting former pit bull and bull mastiff owner Karim Jean Gilles of criminal negligence causing bodily harm, for an unprovoked dog attack in 2015 that left then-seven-year-old Vanessa Biron facially disfigured and suffering from brain injuries, Judge Pierre Belisle of Quebec province, Canada on February 22, 2018 indicated that the sentence he is to render on March 23, 2018 will be “severe, maybe even exemplary.”
Sentencing to follow hearing on pit bull ban
Judge Belisle set the sentencing for the day after Biron’s father, Bernard Biron, is scheduled to testify––toward the end of three days of hearings––on Quebec Bill 128, introduced in April 2017 to enable province-wide bans on pit bulls and other dangerous dog breeds.
“I tell you right away: it is the government’s intention, once Bill 128 is passed, to ban pit bull-type dogs,” Quebec minister of public security Martin Coiteux said in April 2017.
Former Montreal mayor Denis Coderre had at the time just introduced a city-wide pit bull ban, in response to the June 2016 fatal mauling of Christiane Vadnais, 55, by a neighbor’s pit bull.
Coderre was defeated in November 2017, however, by challenger Valerie Plante, a pit bull advocate, whose administration dismantled the ban before it could take effect.
“No remorse or empathy”
Reported Ryan Remiorz of Canadian Press, “Crown attorney Claudie Gilbert said Karim Jean Gilles should be sentenced to three years [in prison] because of the extent of the girl’s injuries, his prior criminal record, and the fact he seemed to have no remorse or empathy.”
Responded Belisle, “I’m thinking of a more severe sentence. More than three years.”
Wrote Remiorz, “The judge likened Jean Gilles to ‘Teflon’ because it seemed to him that penalties didn’t have an effect on the man’s behavior.”
Gilles has reportedly been charged with at least 11 other criminal offenses, including injuring two police officers who in January 2017 served him a summons in connection with the dog attack.
Unfenced yard, no collar or leash
Gilles’s pit bull and bull mastiff were actually in custody of his mother, Hyacinth Parker, 72, when on September 20, 2015 both dogs escaped from her unfenced yard in the Montreal suburb of Longuiel.
“The pit bull and the bullmastiff, who wore no collar or leash, rushed on Vanessa Biron,” who “had been in Marquise Park for only a few seconds with her mother and younger sister,” Claudia Berthiaume of the Journal de Montreal reported. “The two dogs bit little Vanessa in the face, grinding her cheek and jaw. Their fangs also smashed the child’s skull and pierced her right hand as she tried to protect herself. The girl’s mother tried to protect her with her body.”
Parker and Gilles were fined $3,756 for related violations of city ordinances. The pit bull and bull mastiff were both euthanized.
Parker in November 2017 was sentenced to serve three years on probation for her part in the attack, during which she is to perform 240 hours of community service and donate $ 2,000 to Sainte-Justine Hospital, where Vanessa Biron received emergency treatment.
Convicted of two pit bull killings in three months
The pending Gilles sentence, and the March 8, 2018 sentencing of former pit bull owner Eric Hodges for the pit bull attack deaths of two men in the unincorporated Lamar community of rural Benton County, Mississippi, just beyond the outlying suburbs of Memphis, Tennessee, reflect increasing judicial impatience and frustration with pit bull owners who fail to keep their dogs safely confined.
Hodges, 35, was sentenced to serve 20 years for each death, with five years suspended and the sentences to run concurrently. This means Hodges is to spend 15 years in prison.
Hodges, 35, was on February 22, 2018 convicted after a jury trial in Ashland, Mississippi, the Benton County seat, of two counts of manslaughter by culpable negligence.
David Glass Sr., 51, the second victim of Hodges’ pit bulls, was a father of three. Benton County Sheriff Arnie McMullen told media that Glass was attacked in the roadway near the intersection of Sexton Road and Highway 7 around 1 a.m. on September 21, 2014, while walking to visit a location initially believed, from Glass’ deathbed statements, to have been a friend’s grave. Glass appears to have actually been visiting the site where his cousin Derrick Sanders was found dead on July 4, 2014.
First death not recognized until after second
Discovered in a ditch at dawn by a backhoe operator, Glass was airlifted to the Memphis Regional Medical Center. He died soon after arrival.
Three free-roaming pit bulls were impounded at the scene, McMullen said. Three more chained pit bulls were removed from Hodges’ property. All six pit bulls were reportedly later euthanized.
Sanders, 45, the first man killed by Hodges’ pit bulls, suffered similar injuries. Sanders, however, was dead when discovered, and was initially believed to have been stripped, beaten, knifed, and possibly shot by humans. Only after Glass died did McMullen realize that Sanders’ injuries might have been inflicted by the same pit bulls who killed Glass.
Both Sanders and Glass died only a few miles from where Benton County sheriff’s deputies and more than 100 personnel from other law enforcement agencies on Easter Sunday 2013 arrested 52 people and impounded 26 pit bulls from a dogfight that allegedly included “major players” in dogfighting nationally. Shots were fired as 70 to 150 spectators, according to varying law enforcement estimates, escaped through the woods.
Felony homicide reduced to manslaughter
Stiff sentences have been recently rendered in two other cases where courts ruled that “accidental” pit bull attacks were not only foreseeable and preventable, but involved actual criminal negligence.
Charged with contributing to the death of 15-month-old Payton Lyrik Sawyers on the night of January 6, 2016, Terra Lynn Connell, of Independence, Virginia, on January 26, 2018 pleaded guilty in Grayson County Circuit Court to involuntary manslaughter, felony child endangerment and maintaining a dangerous dog.
Much as Benton County is closer to Memphis than to other cities in Mississippi, Independence, Virginia is just northwest of the northern suburbs of the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill “triangle” area of North Carolina.
15 years for death of child
Connell was originally charged with felony homicide, rather than manslaughter, and with possession of ammunition for a firearm after having been convicted of a previous felony.
Connell is to serve 15 years in prison, including a 10-year sentence for the involuntary manslaughter conviction, 10 years with five years suspended for the child endangerment conviction, and two years suspended for maintaining a dangerous dog. Connell is also to serve two additional years in prison for violating her previous parole.
Judge H. Lee Harrell in May 2017 convicted Connell’s boyfriend, John Terry Underwood II, 52, of failure to contain a vicious dog resulting in serious human injury; child abuse or neglect; and involuntary manslaughter. Harrell sentenced Underwood to serve 25 years in prison, with 18 years suspended, plus five years on probation.
Warned by stepson
Connell and Underwood, babysitting Payton Lyrik Sawyers, who was a friend’s daughter, put the 15-month-old to bed in the same room occupied by their pit bull. Payton Lyrik Sawyers had visited the home before, but the pit bull on the previous occasions had been kept in an outdoor fenced enclosure.
Reported Larry Chambers of the Galax Gazette, “Grayson County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Marty Parks pointed to an incident when the pit bull jerked a potbellied pig out of the hands of a boy. Parks said Underwood’s stepson reportedly told him then that he should get rid of the dog and commented, “What if that was a child?”
U.S. Army vets convicted
187th District Court Judge Joey Contreras, of San Antonio, Texas, on January 31, 2018 refused to release Alphonso McCloud, 28, on bond pending appeal of a four-year prison sentence Contreras rendered on January 22, 2018 for McCloud’s role in a pit bull attack that cost neighbor Doris Mixon Smith, 73, her left arm and caused her to suffer facial disfigurement.
The pit bull had previously menaced several other people, according to trial testimony, actually biting at least one of them. The pit bull and a Rhodesian ridgeback also on the McCloud premises were both impounded and euthanized after Smith was injured.
McCloud and his wife, Stanyelle Miles-McCloud, 31, both decorated U.S. Army veterans, were convicted of causing a dog attack that caused serious bodily injury, a third-degree felony.
Violation of court order & bond conditions
Both McClouds could have been sentenced to serve up to 10 years in prison. Miles-McCloud, however, drew no actual prison time, receiving just 10 years on probation for her part in the March 2016 attack.
Contreras “angrily admonished the pair after their conviction because the day they were sentenced, investigators from the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office found the couple had two more pit bulls in their backyard at their current home, a violation of a court order and bond conditions. That led the judge to remand them both into custody and increase their original $15,000 bond to $250,000,” wrote San Antonio Express-News reporter Elizabeth Zavala.
“Miles-McCloud spent three days in the Bexar County jail and is out on the original $15,000 bond after Contreras reviewed the conditions. She is awaiting a pre-sentencing investigation hearing set for March,” added Zavala.
Victim “antagonized” pit bull by mowing her own lawn
“The judge has ordered that as long as Miles-McCloud is under the charge of the court, she is not to have any dogs, regardless of where she lives, or she would violate her probation and go to prison for 10 years.
“McCloud,” explained Zavala, “could be eligible for early release in one to two years, and also would not be allowed to own dogs.”
District Judge Steven Hilbig in July 2017 ordered McCloud and Miles-McCloud, who contended Smith “antagonized” the pit bull who injured her by operating a lawn mower and weed-eater on her own property, to remove all dogs from their home next door to Smith.
McCloud and Miles-McCloud acquired more pit bulls after relocating.
Said Contreras, “The arrogance of the defendants is mind-boggling. They defended a breed that ripped a woman’s arm off in front of their son!”
A security camera showed their 10-year-old son crying and trying to beat the pit bull who injured Smith away from her.
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