Nine months after being accused of killing three goats, two dogs are finally on their way home.
Mario and Luigi, two pit bull mix dogs, belong to army veteran Allen Hustin. After serving during the Iraq War, Hustin relies on his dogs for comfort and emotional support. But on July 8, 2016, his dogs were taken away from him and placed on death row.
The pair of dogs was accused, along with a German Shepherd named Major, of killing a neighbor’s three goats and possibly a cat in Ionia County, Michigan. The three canines were found in the pen with the dead goats after escaping from their own backyard enclosure. A dead cat was also found on the premises.
Local law enforcement immediately assumed the dogs were the culprits, and Ionia County District Judge Raymond Voet sentenced them to death. The German Shepherd, Major, belonged to Susan Owen Vamvakias, Hustin’s mother-in-law. Hustin was visiting family when the incident occurred. After being taken into custody, Major escaped from the shelter and is still missing.
But for Mario and Luigi, the story doesn’t end on death row. After an extended trial that lasted from 1 p.m. to 11:30 p.m Monday night, Voet decided to reverse his original ruling. He stated there simply wasn’t enough evidence to incriminate the dogs.
Three veterinarians spoke at the trial detailing how no blood was found on either of the dogs. Celeste Dunn, one of Hustin’s attorneys, said;
“No blood is direct evidence that these dogs did not do it. How do you get beyond that?”
Dunn also described that the wounds found on the goats were likely caused by coyotes, not dogs. The dogs could have been attracted to the commotion caused by a coyote attack, or they could have simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But either way, lack of physical evidence influenced the judge to consider the fact that the dogs may be innocent.
After the reversal, the dogs were officially released from the Ionia County Animal Shelter where they were being held for the past nine months. Hustin, who lives in North Carolina, wasn’t present at the trial, but Vamvakias broke the news by saying;
“Allen, I’m bringing ’em home. They’re getting in the van, and they’re getting…out of this county.”
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