By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
This past February, Olivero admitted as much — pleading guilty to fighting or baiting of animals. Circuit Judge Reemberto Diaz slammed him with a ten-year sentence. Olivero wept in the courtroom.
One other defendant earned a three-year term for attending the fight. Six others picked up fines and probation.
"Hopefully it served as a warning that you can't torture dogs like this without serving serious time," Dannelly says. "But I think it's still happening out there."
In Boynton Beach, Liz Roehrich attended most of the trial but also had to tend to the constant calls, the bottomless pit of paperwork, and all the animals passing through her office.
She was worried when the jury did not quickly return a verdict Monday morning. That Tuesday, she was sitting at her desk, smoking a Camel No. 9, when she got a call. The jury was back. When she put the phone down, the usually talkative Roehrich was speechless.
After three days of deliberation, the foreperson told Circuit Judge Krista Marx that the jury could not reach a verdict. They couldn't agree on whom to believe. Two wanted to convict. Four wanted to acquit. They were hopelessly deadlocked.
A new trial is set for December. This time, the state plans to call even more experts to convince members of the jury they're looking at dogfighting paraphernalia.
Defense attorneys point out that, unlike the Olivero case in Miami, the state's case against the three men is hampered without witnesses.
Two years with charges hanging over their heads seems to have taken a toll on the defendants. Paul Green had to move out of the neighborhood where he has lived his entire life. "Boynton Beach is a small town," says his attorney, Pasche. "Everybody is everybody's cousin. Dogfighting has been a scarlet letter." With felony charges pending, Green was suspended without pay from the sanitation job he'd held for 17 years. "To have that kind of stigma wrongfully associated, it has absolutely affected every part of every day of his life. All for a case that ultimately came back deadlocked."
On a Sunday morning this past September — nearly two years to the day since the raids — Liz Roehrich was driving around the neighborhood where the whole thing began. She passed the house where Green used to live. Then Ricky Norfus's mother's house, down the street. Then Sam Denson's house, which has been painted orange since the arrests. Though no pit bulls appear to be on the property, a "Beware of Dog" sign still hangs on the fence.
She says that since the very public arrests, the problems with dogfighting in Boynton Beach are essentially gone. "This is a result of good, solid police work we started doing in the '90s and neighborhoods taking responsibility," she explains. "No matter what they like to say, we didn't start investigating when Michael Vick got arrested."
Of all the personal accusations in this case, Roehrich says the one that bothers her most was Willbur's suggestion she is racist. "I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body!"
Willbur maintains that his client and his friends never fought dogs. "As a matter of fact," he says, "the only people we can see hurting any dogs in this case at all was the City of Boynton Beach, because they euthanized every one of them." In December 2007, three months after the dogs were seized, a county veterinarian put down all 15 dogs.
But in one way, their legacy lives on. A breeding chart found in Denson's pickup truck showed that, just days before the raid, Coffee, the badly scarred female, had been bred with Pain, the male with scars on his face and paws. Nearly two months after the arrests, Coffee gave birth to a litter of adorable young pit bulls. There was no problem adopting out all six. They were soft, sprawling, cuddly little pups. And according to their breeding documents, they're all the progeny of champions.