By the time John Lewis’ trial ended in Richmond County circuit court Wednesday the only things certain about Mark Brann’s deer hound, “Bandit,” was that he was dead and Lewis had shot him. Whether he was as lovable as Old Yeller before Old Yeller got rabies or as bad as Old Yeller after he caught it depended on who was testifying.
Brann said Bandit was 20 months old and in his second hunting season when he was killed Jan. 1. “My daughter actually picked the dog out,” Brann said. “He was not an aggressive dog.”
Testifying in his own defense, Lewis said Bandit had been coming at him with bared fangs and his hackles up when he shot him to avoid being bitten.
Lewis was charged with one felony count of cruelty to an animal for killing Bandit and a misdemeanor count of cruelty to an animal for shooting Dylan Dunn’s hound, “Spot.” Judge Harry T. Taliaferro heard the case without a jury.
The incident occurred on Lewis’ property between Canal and Luttrellville roads when the Haynesville Hunt Club was hunting two parcels for which it has permission on either side of Lewis’ land. Brann and Dunn are members of the club.
Members of the club testified that they heard four shots fired from the direction of Lewis’ home but none of them saw Lewis shooting. There was an interval between the shots.
Jason Mozingo said he saw a dog lying in Lewis’ lane which turned out to be Bandit.
Deputy Brian Vanlandingham investigated the matter and talked with Lewis. Lewis told him that he had had trouble with hunting dogs coming on his property and damaging it. He said he’d fired into the air three times to frighten hounds away from his property and once at the dog that turned out to be Bandit.
When Lewis testified, he said there were two groups of hounds. His initial two shots scared off three hounds on one side of his home and a few minutes later about five hounds came up his lane. He fired again into the air which was sufficient to run four of them off but one kept coming at him, zigging and zagging around stumps and limbs along the lane.
Lewis testified that he was twice attacked by dogs in his youth and knows an attacking dog when he sees one. He said, too, that he was born with a genetic defect that makes it hard for him to walk, let alone run.
“I was about to be attacked. I couldn’t run, I can barely walk. I shot him,” Lewis said. (Lewis was born with a clubbed left foot and no calf muscle in that head of
Lewis said he went for a side shot rather than a head shot because he didn’t want to kill the dog. He said he did not shoot Spot.
Veterinarian Sam Marston testified for the Commonwealth about the necropsy he performed on Bandit. He said the dog was shot through the liver, kidneys and spleen and died of blood loss and shock. He said he examined Spot and found he had been shot behind the elbow but he couldn’t say what size shot was used. Lewis said he’d been firing Number 6 shot, which was consistent with Bandit’s injuries.
In final argument Lewis’ lawyer, Patrick O’Brien, asserted that there was no evidence of who shot Spot and Lewis had denied doing it. As to Bandit, he said that Lewis’ firing three warning shots made it clear that Lewis hadn’t shot Bandit in anger as Commonwealths Attorney Wayne Emery had argued.
Taliaferro took a recess to review the evidence and reach a decision. When he returned, he said the hunt club members’ testimony was consistent and Vanlandingham had established that Lewis was “bedeviled by dogs…anybody would be fed up.”
Taliaferroo said Marston’s testimony that Bandit was hit with a side-on shot was important with regard to the attack assertion.
“The court can feel some sympathy toward the defendant,” Taliaferro said before finding him guilty of a misdemeanor in the killing of Bandit and not guilty with regard to Spot. He fined Lewis $250.