The owners of three dogs on death row in Ionia County have been granted a new trial. The animals were found inside a pen with dead goats last summer and were later ordered to be destroyed.
A new trial means the dog owners, including an Iraq War veteran who relied on his two dogs to calm and comfort him, will get a chance to present evidence they say exonerates the dogs. That evidence includes an animal control investigation that found the dogs could not have killed the goats.
Ionia District Court Judge Raymond Voet on Wednesday denied the owners' request to immediately release the two dogs still being held by the county but ordered a new trial, attorneys in the case said.
"We get to present the real evidence of the case," said Celeste Dunn, one of the attorneys who stepped in to help the families after the dogs had been ordered killed.
Two of the dogs -- Mario and Luigi -- are owned by Allen Hustin, of Fort Bragg, North Carolina, a U.S. Army veteran who served two tours of duty in Iraq and received the Purple Heart for injuries received in the conflict. The dogs were recommended to him by a veterans group to help him deal with trauma, attorneys said. The third dog -- Major -- is owned by Hustin's mother-in-law.
Major turned up missing from the shelter last fall and has not been located, attorneys said. Mario and Luigi remain in county custody.
Voet ordered the dogs be destroyed after a hearing last July, nearly three weeks after they escaped from a yard and were later found inside the pen with the dead goats. A dead cat also was found on the premises.
Family members later learned that the county's animal shelter manager determined the dogs didn't kill the goats, their attorneys said. The manager said none of the dogs had any blood on its fur or collar, indicating they could not have killed the goats. She said the goats had been dead long before the dogs got into the pen.
"It was never my opinion or the opinion of the Animal Control officer that these dogs should be destroyed," Robin Anderson, the manager, said in an affidavit.
A witness reported seeing the three dogs running in another location a short time before the dogs were discovered inside the goat pen, attorneys for the dog owners said. The attorneys contend the goats' injuries were more consistent with a coyote attack.
A circuit court judge in January affirmed Voet's decision to have the dogs destroyed. A motion for reconsideration is still pending in circuit court.
The new hearing before Voet is set for April 17, attorneys said.
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Contact Ken Palmer at (517) 377-1032 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @KBPalm_lsj.