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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
It's been more than a year since a pack of dogs attacked and killed a 76-year-old woman outside her home in Thorndale.

On Monday, jury selection began for the trail against the
dogs' owner, 51-year-old Jose Hernandez. He faces a felony charge of criminally negligent homicide. If convicted, he could face a maximum of two years in state prison.

Stiles was working in her yard when the six Pit bull/Rottweiler mixed breed dogs attacked and killed her. Her husband, Jack, who was inside at the time, said her body was unrecognizable after the mauling.

Jack managed to shoot and kill one of the dogs during the attack. A man who tried to help Lillian was bitten on his leg. The other five dogs were taken into custody and euthanized.

Dog-mauling trial

Jose Hernandez faces a felony charge after his dogs killed a 78-year-old woman in 2005.

The attack presented a unique problem for investigators attempting to pursue criminal charges against Hernandez. Milam County is a rural area, and there are no laws on the books that cover what happened to Stiles.

Lillian's family has spent the past two years fighting for tougher legislation against dangerous dogs. They formed the Texas Families Against Dangerous Dogs to lobby the legislature.

With the help of Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown, "Lillian's Law" or House Bill 1355 was filed last month.

The measure would make it a second-degree felony punishable by 2 to 20 years in prison for a pet owner, if their animal kills or
attacks someone causing serious bodily injury.

Current law allows dog owners to be charged only if the animal has been previously deemed dangerous by authorities.


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3,534 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Owner acquitted in dog attack

Eagle Staff Writer

CAMERON - A jury acquitted Jose Hernandez of criminally negligent homicide on Thursday in the death of a woman attacked by his dogs as she mowed her lawn two years ago.

After the verdict, the rural Milam County resident offered condolences to the family of Lillian Stiles, 76. It was the first time the soft-spoken Mexico native had publicly acknowledged remorse.

"I feel great sadness and feel a great deal of pain for the [Stiles family]," Hernandez said through an interpreter. "I feel bad for what has happened."

It took a jury about six hours to find Hernandez not guilty of the crime, which prosecutors said he committed when six of his mixed-breed dogs roaming a rural area near Thorndale attacked and killed his neighbor in November 2005.

During closing arguments Thursday, prosecutors said Hernandez should have known that his Rottweiler and pit bull mixed-breed dogs could be dangerous.

"That phrase, 'I should have known better,' encapsulates or summarizes what the law is regarding criminal negligence," said Milam County Assistant District Attorney Dan Cervenka. "He knew what the dogs were capable of doing. Just by looking at them you can see they are strong."

During the four-day trial, defense attorneys and witnesses said Hernandez's dogs were family pets that never had been vicious before the attack on Stiles. Hernandez had no clue what his dogs were capable of, they said.

Prosecutors countered that Hernandez was not the uninformed, innocent person portrayed by his attorneys or witnesses. The defendant should be held responsible for Stiles' death, they said.

"The man is not stupid," said District Attorney Kerry Spears. "He wants you to believe that. He understands more than he wants you to believe."

Spears said Hernandez was lying when he denied knowing that pit bulls were more dangerous than other dogs or that dogs could bite or kill people.

"Being ignorant, not knowing, is not a defense," Spears said. "Anybody else would've been aware. He ought to have been aware. Nobody could be that clueless. There are basic things we know about dogs, and he says he doesn't know it. That's a flat-out lie."

Prosecutors said the assertions that Hernandez's dogs never showed aggression before the attacks did not necessarily indicate that the dogs were safe.

"Ninety-nine percent of the time, dogs may be great around kids and then suddenly they maul or attack Granny," Cervenka said.

Spears said Hernandez disregarded the risk his dogs posed to the community by leaving them alone for extended amounts of time, failing to vaccinate them and attempting to keep them contained inside a shabby fence.

"Criminal negligence is about not stopping and thinking about how your actions or inactions affect the society around you," Spears said. "An ordinary person takes care of their animals; they don't just collect them and neglect them. There is a standard of care when you own dogs - a standard all of us should live up to. There has to be accountability for such a gross disregard for other people. He did not stop and think how his actions were affecting everyone else. He knew that in a group [the dogs] could do something - something that can't be taken back."

Defense attorney Dan Estrada said during closing arguments that prosecutors failed to provide enough evidence for the jury to find his client responsible for Stiles' death.

"The awareness is key in this whole case," Estrada said. "Awareness is the key that unlocks the door."

But Spears said the jury should consider whether Hernandez should have been aware that his dogs were a risk.

"If the dogs had been declared dangerous or had bitten people before, we would be looking at a totally different charge," she said. "If you know they have done that and continue to allow them to roam, that would be like running through a crowd with a big old knife. We would be looking at a manslaughter charge."

Estrada said by the jury finding his client not guilty, they avoided criminalizing all dog owners - especially those who live in rural areas where there are no leash laws.

Hernandez could have faced up to two years in prison if convicted. Instead, the 55-year-old construction worker walked out of the courthouse Thursday evening, hand-in-hand with his wife, his long black ponytail beneath a felt cowboy hat.

Hernandez's case is one of the only criminal trials in Texas in which the state attempted to hold a dog owner responsible for pets that harm or kill another person, said District Attorney Spears.

The trial received attention from major media outlets. About five TV satellite vans and news crews from as far away as Austin lined the sleepy downtown area surrounding Milam County's historic courthouse all week.

Part of the attention stems from a proposed law making its way through the Texas Legislature. "Lillian's Law," named for Stiles, recently was proposed by Rep. Dan Gattis, R-Georgetown. If approved, the new law would toughen criminal penalties for owners of dogs that kill.

Stiles' family members have been avid supporters of the law. They helped found Texas Families Against Dangerous Dogs - an organization that pushes tougher laws for dog owners.

After the jury delivered its verdict, Stiles' relatives quietly wiped away tears and put their arms around one another.

"We are disappointed, but glad it's over," said Marilyn Shoemaker, Stiles' daughter. "Our family is a family of faith. Everything happens for a reason, even this."

Shoemaker and her father both said they are determined now more than ever to have the new legislation passed.

"[The verdict] proves we need this law," Shoemaker said.

"Maybe it can help save other people's lives," added her father.


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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Veterinarian: Killer dogs weren't bred to be aggressive
Prosecutors question safety of dogs' breeds in attack trial
By Isadora Vail
Wednesday, March 21, 2007

CAMERON - A veterinarian testified Tuesday that Jose Hernandez's dogs that killed an elderly woman were not bred to be aggressive and did not show signs of having been used for fighting.

Hernandez, 55, is on trial in District Court in Milam County, charged with criminally negligent homicide in the attack. Lillian Stiles, 76, a next-door neighbor, was killed by Hernandez's dogs in her yard near Thorndale in November 2005.

Five of the dogs were taken to a nearby veterinary clinic, where they were euthanized. A sixth dog was shot and killed by Stiles' husband. A DNA specialist testified that four of the dogs had blood on them that matched Stiles' DNA.

Veterinarian Valeri Bobbitt inspected the surviving dogs at the clinic. Reading from a report Tuesday, she said the dogs had been kept together, their ears weren't clipped and they had no scars, leading her to believe they hadn't used for fighting. Under questioning from Dan Estrada, Hernandez's attorney, she said the dogs were docile when she took molds of their teeth.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys said three of Hernandez's dogs roamed free, and the three others were kept behind a chain-link fence in the back of his house.

Under Milam County law, Hernandez was not obligated to keep his dogs fenced in or leashed. But prosecutors said Hernandez still should have been responsible for keeping the dogs enclosed.

They questioned witnesses on Tuesday about the safety of the breeds. Attorneys have previously said that five of the dogs were pit bull mixes and one was a Rottweiler mix. On Tuesday, Bobbitt testified that some of the dogs could have also been German shepherd mixes.

When asked by a prosecutor which breeds she took the most precaution with, Bobbitt listed German shepherds, Dalmatians, pit bulls, Rottweilers and chows.

Dog behavioral analyst Karen Overall called Stiles' death a "predatorial attack" because the dogs attacked Stiles' head and throat.

Prior to the attack, there had been no reports or complaints about Hernandez's dogs with the Milam County sheriff's office.

Hernandez family friend Felix Hinistrosa said he often brought his children to Hernandez's home and let them play while the dogs were in the yard.

Greg Kouba, a sheriff's deputy investigator, said the dogs were not violent when he gathered them shortly after the attack. If convicted, Hernandez could face 180 days to two years in prison.

http://www.statesma n.com/news/ content/news/ stories/local/ 03/21/21dog. html

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