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Lucky on the first anniversary of his rescue.
Daily file photo by Paul Huggins
Lucky on the first anniversary of his rescue.

Lesser conviction in Lucky abuse trial
Jury finds ex-owner guilty of misdemeanor charge

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

Samuel Sanders' attorney told a Morgan County jury that his client was not guilty of a felony charge of cruelty to a dog, and jurors agreed.

Instead, the jury Friday found Sanders guilty of misdemeanor charges.

Sanders, 27, was tried for first-degree cruelty to a dog in connection with severe injuries to Lucky, whom he once owned.

After almost three hours of deliberations, the jury returned a guilty verdict for the lesser-included charge of second-degree cruelty to a dog, a misdemeanor.

The jury also returned a guilty verdict for Sanders falsely reporting the theft of a dog to police.

Both verdicts are what attorney Scott Anderson asked the jury to render.

"We never had any intentions of requesting the jury to return a not-guilty verdict," Anderson said Friday. "I told my client in the beginning that the best we could hope for was a misdemeanor conviction. ... I want the public to know that Sam Sanders comes from a good family. He's a good person, a hard working young man who simply made a mistake."

A Decatur sanitation employee found Lucky in a garbage bin Feb. 22, 2006. He was mauled with dog bites and had a dangling leg.

Sanders said he went home from work Feb. 21 and found his dog, which he called Rocky, in the maimed condition. He said he believed his other dog, a pit bull, attacked Lucky.

Sanders said he panicked with fear that he would be stereotyped as a dogfighter and took Lucky to a Dumpster site on Central Parkway Southwest. First, he said, he taped Lucky's snout with duct tape so the dog couldn't make any noise. He said he put him in a garbage bag and placed him in a bin.

"I thought he was dead or almost dead," Sanders told the jury.

Veterinarian Steve Osborne testified that he believed Lucky had been involved in dogfighting.

An investigator testified that he found no evidence at Sanders' home, such as equipment used to train dogs for fighting.

Sanders said he was not engaged in dogfighting. He said he made a mistake by neglecting to get help for Lucky. He said it was because of his fear.

"I was young, I was black, and I had a chewed-up dog and a pit bull," he told the jury Thursday.

Sanders said that's the same reason he lied initially and filed a police report that somebody had stolen his dog after a tipster led police to him.

Later, he gave another written statement to an investigator, apologizing for lying, and gave an account of what happened to Lucky.

Osborne said Friday that he would not have stereotyped Sanders.

"If he had brought the dog to me and told me that his two dogs got into a fight, there would've been no question about taking care of the dog as the owner saw fit," Osborne said. "We wouldn't have locked him in a room and called police."

The cruelty to a dog charge, a Class C felony, carried a penalty of one to 10 years in prison.

The misdemeanors for which the jury convicted Sanders each carry a 12-month jail sentence and fines.

Circuit Judge Sherrie Paler set sentencing for May 17 at 9 a.m.

Lucky became a celebrity after people throughout the nation learned about his plight.

Osborne raised more than $16,000 for a fund called "Justice for Lucky." Some of the money paid the tipster who told authorities that Sanders owned the dog.

Today, Lucky lives with Osborne and his wife. Although he lost one of his legs from the dog attack, the pooch is happy and healthy, Osborne said.

Osborne said he's pleased with the outcome of the trial.

"We're glad that he is convicted of a crime, an animal cruelty offense," Osborne said. "There is still an opportunity for the general public to have input on sentencing."

Sanders said he no longer has any animals.

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