Owner spent $8,000 for two “American bullies,” but not a dime to fix his fence
OKLAHOMA CITY, Oklahoma––Antwon Demetris Burks, 36, was on November 5, 2021 found not guilty of second degree manslaughter in connection with the April 6, 2017 pit bull mauling death of Cecille Short, 82.
The jury deliberated for seven hours before reaching the verdict.
Short and her own small dog, a Papillon named Taylor, were killed during their daily morning walk after the two pit bulls smashed through an allegedly poorly repaired fence to run amok through the neighborhood.
Short, a block from Burks’ home, was reportedly nearly decapitated. The firefighter who was first to reach the scene testified that her head was twisted 180 degrees from a normal position.
Neighbors testified that Burks, a young black man who rented a home in a historically white neighborhood, had repeatedly been warned that the pit bulls were escaping through a hole in his fence, and had menaced local children.
“Burks’ ex-girlfriend testified that she helped Burks fix that hole with nails, wood, and a [freezer] chest pushed in front of it, with trash cans behind it,” reported Jessica Bruno for KFOR television news.
“Prosecutors showed the jury pictures of a damaged fence, along with a large hole that was partially blocked by a recycling bin and cooler anchored down with rocks,” affirmed Kaylee Douglas of KFOR.
Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman reported that “The hole had been barricaded by an ice chest on one side and a brick-filled recycling bin on the other.”
None of the obstacles described would be difficult for two pit bulls to push aside.
Second judge in long case removed from bench
Police shot both pit bulls at the scene in order to approach Short’s body.
Burks, who did not testify at his trial, said he was away in Ponca City, more than 100 miles north of Oklahoma City, at the time of the attack.
The manslaughter case against Burks took four and a half years to reach trial in part because Kendra Coleman, the second judge assigned to hear the case, was on September 18, 2020 stripped of her judicial robe and gavel by the Oklahoma Court on the Judiciary.
The jury of nine district judges and one attorney voted 6-3 to remove Coleman from the bench only 19 months after she was elected to represent the predominantly black northeast district of Oklahoma County.
Coleman upon election in 2018 became the only black district court judge assigned to felony criminal cases in Oklahoma County, succeeding two-year incumbent Michele McElwee, an interim appointee of then-Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin.
McElwee, who is also black and is the same age as Coleman, 44, was in June 2019 sworn in as Logan County Assistant District Attorney.
Coleman refused to recuse herself
Coleman, meanwhile, in May 2019 ran afoul of Oklahoma County district attorney David Prater after twice refusing to recuse herself from the Burks trial.
Prater, who like victim Short is white, drew national attention in 2009 for successfully prosecuting pharmacist Jerome Ersland for murder, after Ersland, also a white man, shot unarmed attempted robber Antwun Parker, 16, a black teenager, and then fetched a second gun, shooting Parker five more times as he lay dying on the floor of the drug store.
Despite the conviction of Ersland, Prater has at least since 2010 been repeatedly accused of exhibiting bias toward black defendants.
Prater in his motion to disqualify Coleman contended that she “showed bias toward [Burks’] defense attorney Ed Blau,” reported Nuria Martinez-Keel of The Oklahoman newspaper on May 25, 2019.
Prater asserted that Coleman had ruled in Burks’ and Blau’s favor “on virtually every motion the defense has filed,” and noted that “Blau donated $500 to Coleman’s election campaign and co-hosted a fundraiser for her.”
Blau later said he had given the Coleman election campaign $1,000.
Photos & tax evasion
The Burks case was originally assigned to Natalie Mai, the first Oklahoma County judge of Vietnamese descent, but was transferred to Coleman when another trial before Mai ran unexpectedly long.
Coleman then “ruled multiple photographs of the victim’s mangled body would not be shown to the jury,” summarized Michael Duncan for NonDoc.
This was apparently because Coleman believed showing the photos would be prejudicial toward Burks, the defendant.
A multi-county grand jury meanwhile in 2019 indicted Coleman on four misdemeanor counts of tax evasion. Dismissing the misdemeanors, Prater consolidated the state charges into one felony count of tax evasion.
“The removal trial revealed,” wrote Duncan, that “Coleman owed $100,683 in federal taxes and penalties and $17,616.39 in state taxes,” for the years 2011, 2012, 2017, and 2018.
Coleman had also collected more than 60 unpaid parking tickets.
Facing a February 22, 2022 jury trial on the state tax evasion charge, Coleman on November 2, 2021 accepted a plea bargain that includes a payment plan and two years on probation.
The Burks defense insisted on identifying the two pit bulls who killed Short as “American bullies,” as if an “American bully” is anything other than a pit bull bloodline.
Media coverage largely bought into that contention.
Assistant district attorney Kelly Collins, who served as the courtroom prosecutor, “reminded jurors in her closing argument about testimony that Burks paid $8,000 to an Alabama breeder” for the pit bulls, named Deliah and Ice Cube, but “couldn’t even muster up a dime to fix the fence properly,” reported Nolan Clay of The Oklahoman.
Breeder: “This isn’t something that my dogs do”
Blau responded that, “The former Kansas State football player bought the dogs from a quality breeder, not ‘Michael Vick’s dogfighting emporium,’” Clay continued.
Breeder Krystina Shumate, of Iron Throne Kennels, “wept during her testimony as a defense witness,” Clay said.
Shumate contended that she “was absolutely devastated,” and “couldn’t believe it. This isn’t something that my dogs do. This isn’t something that my dogs do,” Shumate repeated.
But the Cecille Short killing was in truth very much something that so-called “American bullies” do, and that at least six dogs exempted from local pit bull ordinances as “American bullies” have done since Short’s death.
Reality is that the “American bully” pit bull line evolved out of the “American bulldog” fighting line developed by John D. Johnson in the 1940s-1970s.
Wrote Johnson of his dogs, to Stodghill’s Animal Research Magazine in 1980, “The American Bulldog is the same dog that was developed in England in the 12th century by the meat packers, to catch large bulls to kill for meat… Then they started bull baiting with them, and they then were called ‘Bull Baiting Dogs.’ Later, they were registered as ‘English Bulldogs.’
“They also were ‘pit’ fought over there [ England ], against each other, badgers, lions, and anything that would fight,” Johnson recounted.
“They were brought over here [America] in the 17th century…In the 18th century, England outlawed all types of fighting, and they were no longer needed in their present form, so they bred them down in size…We kept our bulldogs in the [original] large state, and I have developed them even larger,” Johnson finished.