Pit Bull Attack Elicits Murder Charge

ByABC News
July 19, 2000, 12:17 PM

July 19 -- When James Chiavetta is arraigned today on second-degree murder charges in a California courtroom, he faces the possibility of joining a handful of people in the country convicted on a murder charge where the weapon, essentially, is a dog.

Ten-year-old Cash Craig Carson was killed by a pit bull named Louise and a pit bull-chow mix named Bear two dogs that a prosecutor says scared even their caretaker in an isolated desert area of Barstow, Calif.

He intentionally let the dogs loose, says prosecutor Steve Sinfield. He knew they were dangerous. Thats why we want second-degree murder.

Also facing arraignment today are the dogs owners, Michael Caldwell and Gilbert Garcia, who are charged with owning a dangerous animal causing death. If convicted, each could get up to three years in prison and fines up to $10,000. Chiavetta could get 15 years to life.

Sinfield is one of the first prosecutors in the state to use a law beefed up last year to allow more severe penalties when animals hurt or kill people.

Legislation With Teeth

The tougher laws and more aggressive enforcement are key elements to an effort by the Humane Society of the United States to combat dog fighting, which animal activists say is increasing across the nation.

Its getting worse and worse now, says Veronique Chesser, founder and coordinator of Pit Bull Rescue Central, a Missouri-based clearinghouse for other North American rescue groups.

But while Californias law may be well intentioned, its resulted in a frenzy to prosecute even an average homeowner whose animal has never attacked in the past, says Ron Lewis, the Woodland Hills, Calif., attorney for Caldwell.

This is a tragedy, not a crime, says Lewis, explaining that 9-year-old Bear has no history of attacks or a single complaint from neighbors. Its totally out of character that this occurred.

Lewis says there are reports that Cash, the nearest neighbor to the dogs, had in the past possibly tormented the animals with fire crackers and that the boy may have entered the gated yard where the dogs were on the day of the attack. The new California law, Lewis says, goes too far. Everyone who owns a dog is potentially liable, he said.