See Spot Appeal:
A Condemned Dog
Bites Back in Court
California's Judicial System
Grinds Slowly for a Pit Bull
Waiting on Death Row
By Joan E. Rigdon
The Wall Street Journal
(Copyright (c) 1990, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- The condemned prisoner whimpers in the
damp cell block on death row.
Meet Spot, an 85-pound pit bull with a bad reputation, a homeless owner
called "Crazy Ed" and a recent arrest for biting three people. In other
cities, where pit bulls are generally reviled, feared and executed without
much delay, Spot would have been a dog gone long ago.
But this is Santa Barbara, where professionals attend public pray-ins for
rain and a scientist has sued for the right to be killed and have his head
frozen so it can be revived someday and attached to another body when
there's a cure for the tumor infecting his brain.
Here, few are fazed to learn that a dog has an attorney. Actually, Spot
has had two attorneys, and the latest promises to take his case all the way
to the California Supreme Court.
Spot is on his second stay of execution, this one from the state Court of
Appeal. Meanwhile, a crack team from this city's prosecutor's office is
plowing through a pile of papers filed on his behalf: more than 100 pages
of testimony and appeals.
This is Spot's tale: His owner is a 38-year-old bearded homeless man
named Ed Mannon, who is known as Crazy Ed because of his violent
temper. Mr. Mannon got Spot as a puppy four years ago after Spot
failed to prove his worth as a fighter in an initial bout with another pit bull.
Mr. Mannon says homeless people need dogs. "The reason I got into a
dog as a protection number is because there was a guy shot dead in his
sleep," he explains.
One night in March, while Mr. Mannon and Spot slept at an encampment
for the homeless, two pedestrians walked by. What happened next is in
dispute. The pedestrians say Spot attacked them without warning; Mr.
Mannon claims the passers-by were trying to steal a radio.
Police say they arrived in time to see the pedestrians running from Mr.
Mannon, who was yelling "Attack!" to an excited pit bull. The passers-by
and Mr. Mannon all suffered dog bites and were treated and released at
a nearby hospital.
After police impounded Spot, Mr. Mannon hounded lawyers in search of
counsel. Most laughed at him. But Steve Balash, a high-profile,
$150-an-hour criminal defense attorney, agreed to take the case on what
could be called a pro bone basis as a favor to a friend of Mr. Mannon.
Without legal representation, says Mr. Mannon, "I would have been
rolled by the bureaucracy."
Mr. Balash, a Marine Corps veteran who often rides his Harley Davidson
to work, says, "It just wasn't fair. Spot got a bum rap." He says a second
pit bull did some of the biting. And noting Mr. Mannon's claim that the
passers-by were trying to steal a radio, he adds: "If someone stole
something from my back yard, I hope my German shepherd would bite
Mr. Balash demanded a trial, called a vicious-dog hearing, for Spot.
Normally, the hearing would take place at police headquarters. But with
more than a dozen witnesses and dozens more supporters, it was
rescheduled for a community center near downtown. Mr. Balash hired his
own court reporter. The atmosphere was tense. Reporters stood by. The
only one missing was Spot, who remained in his cell in the county dog
pound 10 miles to the west.
Sitting behind a cafeteria table, the "judge," police Lt. A.N. Katzenstein,
listened patiently as several police officers and animal-control officers
recounted the fight. But none personally saw Spot bare his fangs,
bolstering one of Mr. Balash's defenses: that Spot's ex-girlfriend, another
pit bull named Tina, did some of the biting that night.
Then Mr. Balash called numerous character witnesses, including a retired
woman who thinks Spot is as sweet as Lassie and the president of a local
engineering firm who sometimes brings food to the homeless, who
testified that Spot is a milquetoast compared to domestic poodles. The
climax of Mr. Balash's presentation was a color videotape of Mr.
Mannon frolicking with Spot in his kennel on death row.
Nevertheless, Lt. Katzenstein sentenced Spot to death or life without
parole in a dog kennel. Mr. Mannon says he would rather kill Spot than
have him live that way. Besides, without a home, he has no back yard in
which to build a kennel.
Mr. Balash responded with a 28-page appeal to county Superior Court.
He argued that Spot didn't get a fair shake because he was judged by
police in a case that involved police. He said police seized Spot without
due process and failed to prove Spot is vicious. And, he said, the police
are prejudiced against Spot and Mr. Mannon. In one confrontation, Mr.
Balash alleged, a police officer pulled an apparent bag of ashes from his
pants and told Mr. Mannon, "This is your dog, Spot." (The officer says
Mr. Mannon provoked him.)
The county judge, a self-professed dog lover, agonized over the case and
then refused to overturn the ruling. But he granted Spot a 30-day stay of
execution. By then Mr. Balash was embroiled in a human murder
defense, so he handed Spot's case over to a second lawyer, Will
Hastings of the nonprofit Legal Defense Center.
Mr. Hastings obtained a longer stay of execution from the state appellate
court, where he has filed an appeal. If the court agrees to hear the case,
Spot gets a court date. If not, Spot gets executed.
Mr. Hastings vows to take the case to the state's highest court, but city
officials say it won't get that far because the defense's arguments have no
foundation in law. Besides, they note, Spot's rap sheet goes way back.
Pamela Christian, an animal-control officer, complains that since 1986
she has often seen the dog illegally leashed to the city courthouse while
Mr. Mannon has been inside contesting a wide range of charges from
illegal camping to possession of marijuana. Moreover, she says, the dog
Two years ago, Spot was impounded after he broke loose from Mr.
Mannon, bounded across a four-lane street and bit a pedestrian, Ms.
Christian says. According to police reports, the victim was beating on a
pickup truck when Spot ran over. (The victim later said he was in town to
tell President Reagan that the FBI had kidnapped his family.) Frightened,
the victim hit Spot, whereupon Spot bit him.
In court, Mr. Balash argued that Spot only bites when provoked. Mr.
Mannon testified that Spot is "100% friendly" as long as no one hits him
with sticks or does other "freakazoid" things. City officials aren't biting.
"Freakazoid things happen in society," says city law clerk Denise Kale.
Those officials are determined to keep Spot off the streets, but he has his
supporters. Among them is the gossip columnist for the local weekly
newspaper, who goes by the pseudonym Trixie. The column uses the
unusual heading "Angry Poodle Barbecue" and a picture of a poodle with
a bow in its hair and a barbecue fork in its paw. Trixie says that he would
support a law against homeless people owning pit bulls, but that Spot is
Mr. Balash estimates he donated about $6,500 of legal time to Spot's
case. So far, the Spot Legal Defense Fund, which has attracted donations
from local citizens, has paid him $500.
For his part, Mr. Mannon takes 40-minute bus trips to visit Spot at the
pound three or four days a week. He keeps a file of legal arguments,
court documents, news clippings and letters on the case. "The only reason
I'm doing it is because I owe it to him," Mr. Mannon says, explaining that
once, when he was about to face a rap for possession of marijuana, Spot
stepped in and ate the evidence.
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