In a fatal pit bull attack case that triggered public outrage, a jury today convicted a dog owner of involuntary manslaughter for the death of a 4-year-old boy mauled by three dogs in December in front of his mother. The nine-minute-long attack was captured on surveillance video, which jurors viewed during the week long trial that included testimony from police, neighbors and the child's mother, whose son was pulled away from her by a pack of dogs while the two were walking to a neighborhood school.
Geneke Lyons, 42, was also convicted of possessing dangerous animals causing death. He had been charged with second-degree murder, but that charge was dismissed by Wayne County Circuit Judge James Callahan the day before the jury deliberated, a courtroom official said. Callahan told the courtroom after the verdict that, "In the court’s opinion, the defendant was overcharged … to begin with." He allowed Lyons to be released on bond pending his sentencing, saying that his crimes did not pose a threat to the community. Yet he did forbid Lyons to have any contact with dogs.
Prosecutors did not agree with the decision. "We believe that our proofs showed proof beyond a reasonable doubt for second-degree murder," said Maria Miller, a Wayne County Prosecutor's Office spokeswoman.
Lyons’ sentence date is on June 30, 2016 at 8:30 a.m. The charge of manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison and a fine of $7,500. Family members and attorneys declined comment following the verdict.
Yet Lyons also faces an ongoing civil lawsuit for damages that was filed on behalf of the family.
“This is just the beginning of problems for this defendant,” said attorney Mark Bernstein, who represents the estate of 4-year-old Xavier Strickland. Bernstein added that when compared with similar cases of dog attacks, “This is by far the most egregious set of facts I’ve seen in my career. ”The defense had argued that the fatal mauling of 4-year-old Xavier was an accident. But in the end, the jury concluded that Lyons, who owned four pit bull mix dogs — two puppies and two adults — created a situation that led to the boy's death by failing to secure his dogs, just as prosecutors had argued throughout trial .“It’s important to remember that we’re not here though because of what the dogs did … we’re here because of what the defendant did,” assistant Wayne County Prosecutor Parisa Kiani told jurors.
But the defense countered that people in the neighborhood didn’t call animal control or the police when they had seen the dogs out before. And they never notified Lyons, who repaired and rented properties for his job and had installed security cameras at his home, which was surrounded by an iron fence. The surveillance video was turned over to police after the attack. “We believe that the evidence is going to show this was an accident,” defense attorney Francisco Villarruel told jurors, noting the medical examiner ruled it an acciden.
Perhaps the most compelling witness was the boy's mother, Lucillie Strickland, who told jurors the dogs pulled her young son from her grasp as they walked down a street, dragged him underneath a fence and mauled him as she looked on. “That will never leave my eyes,” Strickland said. “Never leave my mind.”
Strickland, who lives around the corner from the dogs, said the pit bills rushed her and her son in the area of John C. Lodge Service Drive and Baylis. It happened as she walked to volunteer at Thurgood Marshall Elementary School with Xavier. Strickland fell on of the boy and was bitten on her ear, leg and back, she said. As she was getting up, the dogs grabbed her son. “They were so strong,” she said. “They just snatched him.”
During the trial, neighbors testified seeing the dogs outside of their yard several times before Xavier was killed. But they didn’t call police, animal control or tell Lyons, they testified.“I didn’t take it too serious,” testified Yolanda Samuels, noting Lyons' dog had come after her two sons before, but didn't hurt them. “In my eyes, they were puppies. They didn’t seem harmful at the time. ”Lyons’ house had an iron fence surrounding it, making it hard for people to get to the front door and tell him about the dogs getting out, neighbors said.
According to trial testimony, neighbors heard Xavier's mother screaming on the day of the attack and went outside to discover dogs circling the boy. People were throwing stuff at the dogs from the top of the fence and then police arrived and started shooting the animals, neighbors said.
Two officers picked up the boy, who was conscious, and transported him to a hospital, where he later died. Xavier suffered more than 90 puncture wounds during the attack.Three of the dogs were killed at the scene. A fourth was later euthanized