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Published: Thursday, 3/13/2014 - Updated: 7 months ago

Expert casts doubt on dogs’ convictions

Appeal will be filed to prevent Friday killings of Ohio animals

BY ALEXANDRA MESTER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bugger, left, and Nala were found responsible for killing two show-quality pigs and injuring a third in May, 2013. The owners of the dogs have challenged the constitutionality of the Michigan Dog Law of 1919, which says their dogs must be euthanized. Bugger, left, and Nala were found responsible for killing two show-quality pigs and injuring a third in May, 2013. The owners of the dogs have challenged the constitutionality of the Michigan Dog Law of 1919, which says their dogs must be euthanized.
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A forensic bite specialist says there is not enough evidence to prove that two Sylvania Township dogs accused of killing two show-quality pigs across the state line in Michigan were responsible for the animals’ deaths.

The case has also been taken up by the Lexus Project, a national organization based in New York that provides legal defense for dogs, and will be taken to the Michigan Court of Appeals.

The dogs, owned by Jannie Juhasz and her daughter, Katalin Juhasz, are being held on death row at Monroe County Animal Control. They have been at the facility since they were found May 2 inside a barn on Whiteford Center Road just north of the Ohio-Michigan state line and a little more than a mile from their home. Two show-quality pigs owned by Stephanie Sonnenberg had been killed and a third was injured.

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Ms. Sonnenberg said she witnessed the dogs attacking the surviving pig, and one of them tried to attack her.

She was able to restrain the dogs until animal control arrived to take custody of them.

The dogs, named Nala and Bugger, were found guilty in July at a “show cause” hearing held in Bedford Township as directed by the Michigan Dog Law of 1919. The law requires dogs who injure or kill livestock be destroyed, so Nala and Bugger have been on death row since then and while their owners appealed the case.

Judge Michael LaBeau of Monroe County Circuit Court upheld the dogs’ guilt on Feb. 21 in the first appeal, and the deadline for the dogs’ lives and any further appeals is Friday.

The Juhaszes, now represented by Whitmore Lake, Mich., attorney Michelle Radloff, will file for a stay with the appeals court to prevent their dogs from being killed.

“In this situation, there’s also a question that these dogs even did this,” Ms. Radloff said.

Kenneth Cohrn is the chief forensic odontologist in District 5 of the Florida Medical Examiner System. The Juhaszes asked him to review the evidence in their dogs’ case, particularly photographs provided as evidence of the pigs’ injuries.

“I’m a general dentist, but one of my specialties is forensic dentistry,” he said. “Then I also get involved with animal bites a fair amount. People will contact me with cases throughout the country.”

The photos show a multitude of scratches along the sides of each pig, as well as more severe wounds to a rear flank of each pig. In his report dated March 9, Mr. Cohrn said there are “no specific recognizable bite marks that might be attributable to the dogs.”

“A dog attack would typically show aggressive tissue damage and most likely recognizable teeth marks,” he said. “There are several lacerations on the right side that might be resulting from dog canine teeth, but might be something else as well.”

Mr. Cohrn also notes that a dog attack would likely have resulted in more bloodshed than what is shown in the evidence photos, and that the blood on Nala’s cheeks as shown in one photo “need not necessarily be from an attack.”

“In addition, I see no evidence in the photos or in the report of injuries to the dogs,” he said. “The pigs would have defended themselves in an attack.”

He indicated that without a necropsy performed on the pigs to determine the cause of death or at least the opinion of a veterinarian, the true cause of death cannot be definitively determined. He said an alternative explanation for the pigs’ deaths was an altercation among the pigs themselves.

J. Henry Lievens is representing the Sonnenberg family, which is not a party in the ongoing litigation.

He said the expert’s opinion should have been sought in the beginning if it was to be considered in the case. He stands by Ms. Sonnenberg’s testimony that she caught the dogs in the act.

“The bloody dogs were found in a frenzied attack on the pigs,” he said. “My client witnessed that with her own eyes and had to fend them off.

“Everyone can hire their so-called experts, but the fact is that two triers of fact have found that these dogs were the culprits. ... I’m confident that the Court of Appeals will hold the same.”

Philip Goldsmith is the attorney for both Bedford Township, which is a party in the case because of the law, and Monroe County, which employs the animal control officer. He was on vacation Wednesday and could not be reached for comment.

Mrs. Juhasz said she believes Mr. Lievens’ involvement is also improper because he is a Monroe County commissioner and sets the budget for county departments, including animal control.

But Mr. Lievens said the officer’s boss is the county sheriff as the sheriff’s office handles animal control, and the county is not a party in the case.

Ms. Radloff said the Sonnenbergs are also attempting to extort money from the Juhaszes to pay for the pigs. Mr. Lievens did submit a request to the Juhaszes’ insurance company requesting $45,000, which he said was based on the purchase price of the pigs plus the perceived value of future sales of the surviving breeding gilt’s piglets.

Mr. Lievens said the $45,000 request has since been withdrawn and negotiations have ceased.

Contact Alexandra Mester: amester@theblade.com, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.


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