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Tag: trial

Son pleads guilty in Oregon murder-for-hire case in which dog was the target

David James Walkoski.jpgDerek James Walkoski.jpgAn Oregon City man pleaded guilty to shooting a dog that belonged to his father’s neighbor.

Police say the father paid for the hit.

For his involvement in what authorities described as a murder-for-hire, Derek James Walkoski, 31, will spend 28 months in prison for shooting and killing Paws, a black Lab that lived next door to his father in Canby.

In a hearing in Clackamas County, Walkoski told Circuit Judge Robert R. Selander that he shot the dog with a rifle, the Oregonian reported.

“You just shot him?” Selander asked.

“Yes,” Walkoski said.

“Any reason?” Selander asked. “Any justifiable reason?”

“No, your honor,” Walkoski said.

Walkoski pleaded guilty to first-degree aggravated animal abuse. He also pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and recklessly endangering another.

Paws’ owner, sitting in the back row of the courtroom gallery, did not address the court.

Walkoski’s father, David James Walkoski, 61, whose trial is set for June 18, hasn’t admitted to any involvement in the killing of Paws.  But he was arrested during the court hearing when prosecutors informed the judge he, while free on bail, pointed his finger at Paws’ owners and simulated firing a pistol – despite an existing no-contact order issued by the court. He was charged with contempt of court and booked into the Clackamas County Jail, with bail set at $50,000.

According to police reports, the Walkoskis’ neighbor returned to his home in April 2012  to find his dog dead. Police said the father paid his son to kill the animal, but did not offer a motive for the shooting.

(Photos: David James Walkoski (left) and his son, Derek James Walkoski)

New trial in “Phoenix” case gets postponed

Update: The re-trial of brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson, set to begin Wednesday, has been postponed to July 26.

Twins Travers and Tremayne Johnson were scheduled to be back in court this morning for a second trial on charges of setting a dog named Phoenix on fire two years ago. 

The first trial for the Baltimore brothers ended in a mistrial in February.

The dog was found on fire by a police officer, who used her sweater to put out the flames. Days later, Phoenix died while being treated in Pennsylvania.

The case led to an increased focus on animal abuse in Baltimore and the creation of an Anti-Animal Abuse Taskforce.

In the first trial, a single juror held out against a guilty verdict, resulting in a hung jury.

Twins to be tried again in dog burning

Prosecutors said today that Travers and Tremayne Johnson, the twin brothers accused of fatally setting fire to a pitbull in 2009, will be tried again.

The first trial ended Monday in a hung jury.

The new trial is scheduled for May 4, ABC2 in Baltimore reported. 

The announcement came after a series of meetings held by the prosecutor’s office this week.

The dog, named Phoenix, was doused with accelerant and set on fire in the summer of 2009 — an act that would make headlines across the country, lead to the formation of a citywide animal abuse task force and provoke outrage from animal welfare advocates.

The five-day trial came to a close Monday after the jurors deliberated for more than 20 hours over three days, but couldn’t agree on a verdict. One juror wasn’t convinced of the brothers’ guilt in the attack, according to news reports.

New trial in Phoenix case? Prosecutors, citing gag order, say they are considering it

Will Baltimore twins Travers and Tremayne Johnson be retried on animal cruelty charges in connecton with the setting a pit bull on fire?

A May 4 date has been set aside at the courthouse, but prosecutors, citing a gag order issued by the judge, aren’t saying much more than that.

The trial of the twins charged with setting fire to the dog, who became known as Phoenix, ended in a mistrial Monday.

Deputy State’s Attorney Elizabeth Embry, at a meeting with animal advocates Wednesday, said prosecutors are holding a series of meetings to determine whether to retry the case.

According to the Baltimore Sun, she said the office expects to announce a decision soon.

Jurors deliberated for more than 20 hours over three days, but one juror wasn’t convinced of the brothers’ guilty, making a verdict impossible.

“We want to be very deliberative and are having a series of meetings to discuss the case,” Embry, said at the meeting, noting the gag order. “As soon as the decision is made, which will be shortly … we’ll be making an announcement.”

Pit bulls: Trials and tribulations

We can’t remember a week — at least not since 2007, when federal authorities raided 1915 Moonlight Road – that pit bulls have grabbed so many headlines … without even biting anyone.

Here in Baltimore, the week began with a pit bull parade, sponsored by B-More Dog and designed to improve the image and shatter the misconceptions about the breed — such as the one that they are innately inclined to inflict violence.

Those who ran into the pack of four-legged goodwill ambassadors at the Inner Harbor Sunday got a chance to see beyond the myths.

The very next day, a mistrial was declared in the case against twin brothers in Baltimore accused of setting a pit bull on fire in the summer of 2009. Phoenix, as the dog was dubbed, died five days later. The police investigation that followed, testimony at the trial indicated, was something less than thorough — likely, I think it’s safe to say, because the murder victim was a dog, and, in particular, a pit bull.

Jurors were unable to reach a decision, and a new trial is a possibility, but as of now, it appears the fatal burning of Phoenix will go unpunished. Despite that, she leaves a legacy.

“We waited almost two years for justice for Phoenix and though justice was not met for her, she became the change agent and public figure for animal abuse,” said Jennifer Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS). “Thousands of people offered their support on her behalf. Because of her, a Mayor’s Commission on Animal Abuse has been formed and the seriousness of animal abuse has been elevated to a national level.”

No dog, I will go out on a limb and educatedly guess, is more often the victim of abuse and neglect than the pit bull type — just as they are the most often maligned. Society, rather than simply label them as aggressive, and ban and muzzle them,  needs to come to terms with the fact that, in those instances when they are violent, our fellow humans are responsible for it, training them to fight, attempting to breed for viciousness, and trying to turn their natural born tenacity into something mean and macho.

Which brings us, once again, to Bad Newz Kennels.

Down in Dallas, the adoptive parent of one of Michael Vick’s dogs confronted the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback and offered him an opportunity to meet Mel, a shy and fearful pit bull who was apparently used as a bait dog at Vick’s Bad Newz Kennels.

The convicted dogfighting ring operator — in Dallas to receive the key to the city — declined, and his entourage shoved Mel’s new owner, local radio personality Richard Hunter, who captured the whole episode on his shaky camera, out of the way.

A few days after that, reports surfaced that Vick’s former estate on Moonlight Road, the Surry, Virginia, headquarters of Bad Newz Kennels, which has sat empty for three years, may be getting a new owner — Dog Deserves Better, a Pennsylvania-based dog rescue and advocacy group.

They hope to turn the former Vick mansion — where 51 dogs were seized by authorities and eight more were found dead and buried on the grounds — into a training and rehabilitation center for rescued dogs.

As usual, bringing up Michael Vick brings on lots of comments, on this blog and others, from his supporters — those who say “give it a rest,” those who say “he served his time,” those who say he’s a different person now who should be permitted to move beyond his besmirched reputation.

Be that as it may, I’m wondering when pit bulls — given they are regularly accused and punished without any trials, given that any violence they display has been instilled into them by humans, given that their bad reputation is mostly undeserved – will be afforded that same opportunity.

As a breed, they’ve done their time.

(Photo by Tim Quinn)

Phoenix case ends in mistrial

The  trial of Travers and Tremayne Johnson ended in a mistrial tonight.

Jurors were unable to come to an agreement about the brothers’ guilt or innocence on any of the four animal cruelty charges against the twins accused in the 2009 fatal burning of a dog nicknamed Phoenix.

The brothers, the Baltimore Sun reported, smiled as the result was read about 6:30 p.m., after a third day of jury deliberation.

Phoenix’s death outraged animal activists nationwide, who collectively donated thousands to find the dog’s attackers, and led to the creation of an Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force. The commission’s report found the city’s response to animal abuse was lacking — a finding the trial of the brothers seemed to reinforce.

Defense attorneys repeatedly pointed out the flaws in the investigation that followed the May 27, 2009 incident.

The dog had been doused with accelerant and lit on fire, burning until a police officer ran from her car and smothered the flames with her sweater.

But according to testimony, the crime scene was never secured, photographed or otherwise documented and it wasn’t assigned to police investigators for a week.

Jury, struggling to reach verdict, will reassemble Monday in “Phoenix” case

Jurors in the trial of the twin brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson — accused of setting a pit bull known as “Phoenix” on fire in the summer of 2009 — will resume their deliberations Monday.

They were sent home Friday, unable to come to a consensus after a day and a half on whether Travers and Tremayne Johnson should be found guilty of the crime, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Twice on Friday, the jurors told Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill they were having trouble reaching a verdict. The judge urged them to continue deliberating.

“Do not hesitate to re-examine your view,” he said. “You should change your opinion if you are convinced you are wrong.”

The jury continued deliberating until about 6:30 p.m. before being excused for the weekend.

Phoenix case: Closing arguments tomorrow

Both sides rested their cases Wednesday in the trial of Travers and Tremayne Johnson, accused as 17 year-olds of setting on a fire a pit bull who later died of her injuries.

Closing arguments are expected to conclude Thursday, at which point the jury begins deliberations. The twins, now 19, each face a maximum sentence of three years in prison if convicted of animal cruelty.

After testimony from 10 prosecution witnesses, the defense presented only one, WBAL reported – a fire protection engineer who characterized earlier testimony that an accelerant was found on two pairs of jeans a backpack and sneakers taken from the Johnson home as inconclusive and incomplete

The defense witness said tests on the collar of the dog, named Phoenix, were also inconclusive and didn’t detect any particular ignitable substance.

Witness testifies in day 2 of “Phoenix” trial

A witness, bluntly acknowledging that she came forward only because an award was offered, said she saw Travers and Tremayne Johnson run “from the scene of the crime” seconds after a pit bull puppy was set on fire.

Tiera Goodman, who is jailed in an unrelated case, testified today in the twins’ trial in Baltimore on animal cruelty charges.

“I know what I saw, I just didn’t care until I seen the reward,” Goodman said, explaining why she waited six days before approaching police about the pit bull who was set on fire in the the summer of 2009.

Goodman stands to gain thousands of dollars in reward money that was collected after the dog, nicknamed “Phoenix,” after five days of suffering, was euthanized. About $28,000 in donations were taken in for the reward, which will be paid if there’s a conviction in the case, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Prosecutors today showed video from a city surveillance camera, showing the street scene minutes before the attack in late May.

As narrated in court  by Sgt. Jarron Jackson, the video showed a man call the dog, then walk her over to two other men standing on the corner. While the footage is fuzzy, Jackson identified the two males as the Johnson brothers, based partly on their mannerisms, he said.

Jackson said the video shows Travers kicking the dog before taking her to an alley and disappearing from the camera’s view. Seven minutes later, the brothers ran out of the alley, and seconds later the burning dog appeared.

Goodman told the courtroom she left the scene when police arrived, and came forward only “because there was a reward. It’s posted all over the projects.”

A cat named Mittens, a dog named Phoenix

As the case against two brothers accused of setting a pit bull named Phoenix on fire unfolds in a Baltimore courtroom, a cat named Mittens is nursing both her kittens and the wounds she received after being set on fire in the city.

It may not be raining abused cats and dogs, but this — one case entering the public consciousness before the other has a chance to clear it — is how a reputation gets made. And if Baltimore doesn’t do something — something big, something quick — it stands in danger of becoming known not as the city that reads, or even the city that bleeds, but the city that torches, and tortures, its pets.

Whether it deserves that label more than other cities is arguable. It’s also not the point. The point is the torture of animals is a big flashing neon sign, reading ”Address This Issue.” It’s a highly visible symptom of an illness in society that, even though it has been diagnosed, is largely being ignored.

Baltimore has no monopoly on animal torture — and it’s not the only city that’s failing to fully address it. In cities across the country there are pockets of misguided youths who have either failed to develop any compassion, may never have been taught any, or have had it snuffed out of them.

Attacking the problem is something that should be done not just for reasons of image, but, much more importantly, because it has been well documented that children who take pleasure in torturing pets often grow up to inflict harm on fellow humans. Pick a serial killer and you can, almost always, find animal abuse in his past.

If how a society treats its animals is a barometer of how civilized it is, Baltimore needs a massive injection of civility — stat — some large doses of empathy and compassion, best administered during childhood.

The saddest irony of it all is that animals are one of the best ways to administer that, to teach children a respect for all living things. Instead, dogs and cats, who we have so much to learn from about life, love and happiness, time and again in Baltimore are serving as the victims for those seeking sick thrills or acting out their inner hostilities.

Mittens, according to officials at Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), was placed into a milk crate by a juvenile who doused both the cat and the crate with lighter fluid, struck a match and threw it into the crate.

In flames, the cat broke free from the milk crate and ran from the yard, running in circles until the fire was extinguished, BARCS said. She then returned to the kittens she had recently given birth to at a home on Saint Ambrose Street. (St. Ambrose, for some more irony, is considered the patron saint of domestic animals.)

That incident came to light after the first day of testimony in the trial against teenage brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson, who are accused of dousing Phoenix, a pit bull, with accelerant and setting her on fire on May 27, 2009.

On Friday, Baltimore city police detective Syreeta Teel tearfully described finding the pit bull on fire on a West Baltimore street and running from her squad car to smother the flames with a sweater.

Despite her quick and heartfelt response, one thing that’s becoming evident during the trial is that the police department doesn’t take torturing and killing animals as seriously as some other crimes.

Teel, according to testimony, left the sweater, which might have provided traces of accelerant, on the sidewalk. The scene was never secured, and the police crime lab was never called. “The Baltimore City Police Department completely botched this,” said Assistant Public Defender Karyn Meriwether, who represents one of the brothers.

The death of Phoenix drew national attention, leading to thousands of dollars in donations to a reward fund and the creation of a city-wide Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, which issued a report last year that found numerous flaws in the city’s response — particularly that of law enforcement — to incidents of animal abuse.

According to a Baltimore Sun report, the prosecution’s evidence is limited in the Phoenix case, and relies largely on unclear surveillance video and the word of witnesses — including a woman who the defense says came forward once the reward topped $25,000.

Phoenix was burned over more than 95 percent of her body. Veterinarians would later find that her corneas had melted, and the inside of her mouth was scorched. She’d lost her footpads to the flames, but she kept fighting until, with her kidneys failing, she was put to sleep five days later.

“On a scale of one to 10,” her pain level was “10,” said a Pennsylvania veterinarian who treated her. Phoenix also had puncture wounds on her neck and leg, indicating she might have been in dog fights, but throughout her treatment she showed no aggression.

The Johnson brothers both were initially charged in juvenile court, but were later indicted as adults on the animal cruelty charges, which carry a maximum prison sentence of three years. Testimony is expected to continue this morning.

Animal advocates in Baltimore are watching the case closely, and hoping that, if found guilty, the twins receive the most severe punishment posible.

But as the weekend’s developments show, as Mittens reminds us, a strict sentence is not the entire solution. It’s reactive, and while it may send a needed message, the city needs to do more, in a proactive way. Investigating, arresting, prosecuting and imprisoning animal abusers all need to be done, and done properly, and taken seriously, but what’s even more vital is preventing it from happening in the first place.

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Our favorite reader comment: ”Kindness and concern for animals is going to have to be taught in elementary school. It’s the only way to stop this problem in its tracks.”

Baltimoregal

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