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April 5, 2013

The HSUS Honors Indiana Prosecutor with Award For Animal Cruelty and Fighting Case

  • Judge Marianne Vorhees cited the terrible injuries of "Wonder" during Johnson's sentencing hearing. Linda Turner

  • "I named the dog 'Wonder,' because it is a wonder that he had any affection to give," said animal behaviorist James Turner. "He and I bonded in the short time we had together." Linda Turner

The Humane Society of the United States honored Delaware County Deputy Prosecutor Joe E. Orick, of Muncie, Ind., with the Prosecutor Recognition Award, for successfully prosecuting Rahsaan A. Johnson for dogfighting-related charges.

Specifically, Johnson was convicted of 14 counts of possessing an animal for use in an animal fighting contest and seven counts of cruelty to an animal.

Johnson was sentenced last month to the maximum four-year executed sentence to the Indiana Department of Corrections.

Sherry Ramsey, director of animal cruelty prosecutions for The HSUS said: "The Humane Society of the United States is pleased to have been able to support Prosecutor Orick in his steadfast dedication to provide justice for the abused dogs in this case. We need more determined prosecutors like Prosecutor Orick. We are also extremely grateful to Judge Marianne Vorhees for taking these crimes seriously."

Orick said: "The successful prosecution of this case was made as a direct result of the tremendous support that I received from Sherry Ramsey and The Humane Society of the United States."

This case was a long-fought victory for Orick, who utilized The HSUS's prosecutor resources program for help with legal research on various issues of law. The HSUS has a long history of collaborating with and training prosecutors around the country in achieving effective results in animal cruelty cases.

Learn more about our resources for prosecutors.

Background:

  • Authorities were alerted to Johnson's possible dogfighting activity in March 2012, when two dogs in poor shape arrived at the Indianapolis Airport from the Dominican Republic. U.S. Customs officials notified local law enforcement that the animals appeared underweight, sickly and covered with scars that looked to be from bite wounds.
  • The Muncie Police department obtained a search warrant for Johnson’s property. There, they found 25 dogs, many without access to food or water, along with reported treadmills, weighted collars, Penicillin, wound spray, syringes, shock collars and other items commonly associated with dogfighting. Johnson was arrested on April 5, 2012.
  • The jury found Johnson guilty on Nov. 5, 2012.
  • In determining the sentence, Judge Marianne Vorhees noted the particularly disturbing condition of a dog named Wonder, who had to be euthanized when he was found to be suffering a severe infection as the result of numerous, open puncture wounds along his jawline and face. She went on to note the defendant's refusal to take any responsibility for his conduct and called dogfighting a "brutal and disgusting" activity. Johnson is still free pending appeal.

Ramsey notes that Orick's successful prosecution is particularly noteworthy for other prosecutors pursuing animal-fighting related cases, because of the many challenges Orrick faced, including:

  • Johnson's bail reduction from $251,000 to $50,000: Although Johnson made bail, Prosecutor Orick convinced the judge to order that the defendant have no contact with any animals pending the disposition of the case.
  • A defense motion to dismiss based on destruction of evidence, because some of the dogs had been euthanized or rehomed: Orick convinced the court to deny the motion by arguing that because all the dogs were photographed at the time of seizure, keeping all of the dogs as evidence was neither necessary, nor were the missing dogs materially exculpatory evidence. He further argued that even if all of the dogs had been kept as evidence, they would be in a far different condition than when they were first seized.  
  • The defense claim that Johnson was a dog-breeder, not a dogfighter: Orick countered with expert and veterinary testimony that the scars and wounds on the dogs were consistent with animal fighting.

Orick also submitted a detailed memorandum to the court concerning the State's position regarding the possible penalty phase.

Media Contact: Stephanie Twining, 301-258-1491, stwining@humanesociety.org

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