An Oklahoma jury acquitted a dog owner whose two animals mauled to death his elderly neighbor four years ago while she was on her morning walk.
Antwon Demetris Burks, 36, of Oklahoma City, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter after his two America Bully dogs attacked and killed Cecille Short, 82, and her small Papillion in April 2017.
Burks, who was not home at the time of the attack, was found not guilty after jurors deliberated for seven hours at Oklahoma County District Court on Friday.
Antwon Demetrius Burks, 36, breaks down in tears after being acquitted of second-degree manslaughter charges in Oklahoma City
Cecille Short (left), 82, and her dog were killed in the attack
Burks’s dogs Bella and Ice Cube had attacked Short in April 2017 while she was on a walk
‘Long deliberations are excruciating,’ defense attorney Ed Blau told The Oklahoman. ‘But that just means the jury was taking their time.
‘They were looking at the evidence, they were reading the law and they were doing everything they could to come to the right decision.’
If convicted, Burks would have faced up to four years in prison.
During Burks’s trial, which began on November 1, prosecutors blamed him for the attack because he failed to keep his two dogs on the property.
‘This particular crime is a crime of negligence,’ Assistant District Attorney Kelly Collins said. ‘This is about as bad as it gets.’
Jurors were shown photos of a large hole in the fence of Burks’s rental home that he had not properly patched up.
The hole had been temporarily ‘closed up’ with an ice chest on one side and a brick-filled recycling bin on the other.
Burks, 36, and his legal team await verdict before he is found not guilty
Burks’s neighbors testified that his two dogs, Delilah and Ice Cube, were ‘dangerous’ and would act aggressively towards people and other animals.
A flyer was put up in October 2016 detailing an attack between Burks’s dogs and another dog and encouraged neighbors to call the police if his animals were seen again.
They also claimed that the dogs had been seen roaming freely around the neighborhood.
Another neighbor who testified, however, said that Burks was seen attempting to fix his fence multiple times and that the dogs were always very ‘sweet’ with her grandson.
‘He was always trying to keep them corralled,’ neighbor Michelle Huddleston said. ‘I never had any kind of fear of anything from them.’
The dog’s breeder Krystina Shumate of Iron Throne Kennels gave a tearful testimony for the defense.
‘I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t believe it,’ Shumate said.
‘This isn’t something that my dogs do. This isn’t something that my dogs do.’
The defense also argued that Burks could not have foreseen the deadly attack on Short.
‘They were bought from a reputable breeder,’ Blau said, according to KFOR.
‘They were well-trained. We had witness after witness testify they didn’t think something like this could happen.’
Burks’s lawyers cheered the verdict.
‘My client (has) waited four years for this day, and this was an extraordinarily tough case,’ Blau said after the case.
‘Not easy on anybody. I appreciate the jury. I appreciate them listening to the evidence, looking at the law and coming to the decision they did.’
Short, who lived around the corner from Burks, had been walking her small dog Taylor down Willow Creek Boulevard on the day of the attack.
Burks’s two dogs killed both Short and her dog at the scene and dragged the woman’s body into a yard.
The vicious attack had reportedly almost decapitated Short, leaving a pool of blood in the quiet neighborhood.
Witnesses and emergency crews had attempted to shoo the dogs away from Short, but were unsuccessful.
The male dog was fatally shot by a police officer and the female dog was struck by a patrol car before being taken to Oklahoma City Animal Welfare.
A funeral service was held for Short at Chapel Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens on April 14, 2017.
‘We are heartbroken for the family of Cecille Short,’ District Attorney David Prater told The Oklahoman.
‘This has been a horrific and preventable tragedy to that family. We don’t understand the verdict of the jury but we respect it.’
Burks’s attorney Ed Blau said that he knew the case was ‘not easy’ for any of the parties involved