Wednesday, Jul 30, 2014
Local News

Dog fight attendee found guilty on two counts


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SEBRING - After deliberating less than two hours, a jury of six found James Reed was guilty of attending a dog fight and of resisting an officer, but he was found not guilty of animal cruelty.

Resisting an officer is a misdemeanor with up to a one-year sentence, and attending a dog fight is a felony with a maximum sentence of five years, said Asst. State Attorney Courtney Lenhart.

However, under Florida's sentencing guidelines, a convicted defendant must tally more than 22 points, and Reed scored only 4.5. His previous record includes only DUI and a few other minor scrapes with the law. Therefore, although she will argue for prison time, she conceded he isn't likely to face prison time on his current conviction.

"He's not a danger to his community," she explained the law. "But he's a danger to the dog community. It's disgusting, what he did."

Reed faces more charges, though. After he was arrested on Dec. 6, 2011, authorities confiscated more than two dozen dogs at his house on High Avenue; most were pit bulls.

Judge William Sites said he would deal with 10 counts of cruelty to animals and 26 counts of selling or possessing animals to fight or bait when Reed is sentenced on Feb. 3, so Reed could be tried a second time. Owning, managing or promoting a dogfight, or using a bait animal is a third degree felony; depending on the exact charges, cruelty to animals could be a felony or a misdemeanor.

The defense asserted there was little evidence Lenhart addressed to the jury in closing remarks. "He was there," she said.

The evidence included a booking photo of Reed in dreadlocks and a white T-shirt. Detective Brett Hinkle testified that a man with long hair and a white T-shirt was holding a dark dog by its collar or chain, so high in the air its feet did not touch the ground.

Hinkle, then a deputy, arrived after the 15-20 minute dog fight had ended, but Reed had so much blood on his black shoes and white socks that they were taken for evidence.

"There was a lot of unnecessary suffering," Lenhart said in attempting to persuade the jury on the animal cruelty charge. Nevertheless, during deliberations, jurors came back to the judge with a question about the charge: Is attending a dog fight evidence of animal cruelty. They should read and follow the original jury instructions, both attorneys suggested, and the judge agreed.

The dogfighting ring was owned Sylvester Sims, defense attorney Valerie Wright asserted. The deputy arrived after the fight. And although several of Reed's dogs were euthanized, the Bartow lawyer suggested that the dog's injuries were actually superficial.

Reed was there, Wright conceded to the jury, but he wasn't mentioned as one of the two dogfighters in the ring. It was two months later, in another report, that Hinkle pointed to Reed as one of the two fighting the dogs.

After dismissing the jury, the judge ordered Reed under house arrest until the sentencing date.

"When you leave here, go to your home," Sites said. "You are confined to your home. You're not working, so you have no reason to leave. No drugs. And no alcohol."

Reed smiled and nodded his head.

gpinnell@highlandstoday.com

863-386-5828

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