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Lucky recovers at Osborne Animal Clinic last year after he was found badly mauled, his muzzle duct-taped shut, in a Decatur garbage bin.
Daily file photo by John Godbey
Lucky recovers at Osborne Animal Clinic last year after he was found badly mauled, his muzzle duct-taped shut, in a Decatur garbage bin.

Lucky's ex-owner says he just made a mistake
Defendant says he panicked after finding injured dog, feared stereotyping because he's young, black and owned a pit bull

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

Samuel Sanders said fear of being labeled a dogfighter is what caused him to put his dog — now called Lucky — in a garbage bin rather than taking him to a veterinarian.

Sanders, 27, accused of cruelty to the dog, testified Thursday in his trial in Morgan County Circuit Court.

Sanders said he did not inflict injuries to Lucky and he panicked about what to do "because I was young, I was black and I had a chewed-up dog (Lucky) and a pit bull."

He said he made a mistake and he regretted it.

Testimony started Thursday morning in front of Judge Sherrie Paler, and the case went to the jury about 4:15 p.m. after closing arguments.

Assistant District Attorney Paul Matthews alleges that Sanders intentionally committed animal cruelty by covering Lucky's mouth with duct tape, placing his mangled body in a garbage bag and putting him in a garbage bin. Matthews also alleges that Sanders tortured the dog.

Lucky became a celebrity, in part because of suspicions that he had been injured in a dogfight.

Sanders told the jury that he saw a newspaper advertisement for the dog and got him from the owner in June or July 2005. Sanders said he had owned a pit bull, Colby, for a short time and the puppies grew up together.

He said he had a pen for Lucky, whom he called Rocky, and he chained Colby.

He said when he went to work at 4 p.m. on Feb. 21, 2006, Lucky was fine and running free in the fenced backyard of his house in Southwest Decatur. When he returned at 3 a.m. the next day and went outside to feed the dogs, he said, Colby came but he didn't see Lucky.

Later, he said, he looked for Lucky and found him lying injured near a shed in back of his home. Sanders said the dog's leg was broken, with flesh and bone exposed, and he had other injuries.

"I thought he was dead or almost dead," Sanders said.

He said he wrapped Lucky's snout with duct tape so that he would not make noises, leaving room so that the dog could breathe. Then he put him inside a garbage bag, leaving his head sticking out, and placed him in his car. He took him to a city garbage-disposal site on Central Parkway Southwest near Wilson Morgan Park and placed him in a bin.

He said he took the dog there about 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 22. A city sanitation employee testified that he found the dog in the bin at about 7 a.m.

Veterinarian Dr. Steven Osborne, who treated Lucky, testified about the condition Lucky was in when he received him from Decatur animal control workers.

Rotting flesh

He said parts of Lucky's flesh had started rotting and a leg was dangling (Osborne amputated it). He said odor from the dying flesh permeated his clinic.

Osborne said dogs breathe through their mouths, and the duct tape caused Lucky to lose 80 percent of his oxygen. He said it appeared that Lucky's snout had been taped between 24 and 36 hours.

Sanders' attorney, Scott Anderson, asked Osborne about a letter he sent to him stating that his client would pay the expenses for Lucky's medical treatments, which included four surgeries. Osborne said he did not respond to the letter after talking to the district attorney's office.

Dogfight

Osborne said his assessment of Lucky's condition was that he had been in a dogfight. Decatur investigator Sgt. Rick Archer testified that he and another officer searched Sanders' home and found no evidence that dogs were being trained for fighting there.

Osborne said the duct tape on Lucky's snout had bite marks on it.

Anderson asked about the tape, and Osborne said that a clinical assistant discarded it. Also, Anderson said Lucky's clinic records did not document bite marks in the tape.

Archer said Sanders lied in a written statement, initially saying that someone stole Lucky from his residence two months prior to the dog's discovery in the garbage bin.

Later, Sanders gave another statement to Archer. He apologized for lying and the way he handled the situation. He said he wanted to take the dog to get medical treatment but he was afraid of being stereotyped as a dogfighter.

In his closing argument, Anderson said, "They (authorities) did just that."

Anderson said Sanders has never been in trouble, never gotten a parking ticket.

He went to Sanders' grandmother, who was present in the courtroom, and asked the jury to look at her. Anderson said he met her in 1975 when he was a student at Woodmeade Elementary School.

"These are good people," Anderson told the jury.

Misdemeanor or felony?

He said the case is unique because Sanders is guilty, but not of the felony animal cruelty charge.

He explained first-degree cruelty to an animal and the second-degree version of the charge, which is a misdemeanor. Anderson said his client is guilty of the misdemeanor by failing to get help for Lucky and abandoning him.

He said there was no evidence that Sanders tortured or physically injured Lucky.

He urged the jury to find Sanders guilty of the misdemeanor and of giving a false statement concerning the theft of Lucky. A perjury charge against Sanders was dismissed Thursday.

Matthews said the jury should convict Sanders of the felony.

He said Sanders admitted to taping the dog's mouth.

"Even if you believe what he tells you, he's guilty of cruelty to an animal in the first degree," Matthews said.

Jury deliberations continue Friday.

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