The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City
Around the same time almost every day, Cecille Short — a great grandmother and avid Thunder fan — would walk her beloved dog Taylor on a leash in her northwest Oklahoma City neighborhood.
The last time came on April 6, 2017.
That afternoon, two loose dogs attacked the 82-year-old widow in the street, mauling her, breaking her ribs and nearly ripping her head off. They then turned on her Papillion, quickly killing the small dog, too.
The dogs’ owner, Antwon Demetris Burks, was charged with second-degree manslaughter after an investigation.
On Friday, a jury decided he was not guilty.
Burks, now 36, had faced up to four years in prison if he had been convicted of the felony charge. Instead he went home.
Jurors took more than seven hours to reach their decision. Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott read the verdict at 5:20 p.m.
“Long deliberations are excruciating,” defense attorney Ed Blau said afterward.
“But that just means the jury was taking their time. They were looking at the evidence, they were reading the law and they were doing everything they could to come to the right decision.”
District Attorney David Prater said, “We are heartbroken for the family of Cecille Short. This has been a horrific and preventable tragedy to that family. We don’t understand the verdict of the jury but we respect it.”
Jurors were told Burks was to blame because he knew the dogs were a problem, but had not taken the necessary steps to keep them confined at his home a block away from the attack.
“This particular crime is a crime of negligence,” Assistant District Attorney Kelly Collins told jurors. “This is about as bad as it gets.”
Jurors were repeatedly shown photos of a large hole in the wooden fence at the house he rented. The hole had been barricaded by an ice chest on one side and a brick-filled recycling bin on the other.
The prosecutor reminded jurors in her closing argument about testimony Burks paid $8,000 to an Alabama breeder for the two American Bully dogs. She said he couldn’t even muster up a dime to fix the fence properly.
Defense attorneys put on testimony from Burks’ friends, an ex-girlfriend, two neighbors and others that the dogs — a female, Deliah, and male, Ice Cube, — were sweet, friendly and interacted well with children. They argued Burks could never have foreseen the tragedy.
The former Kansas State football player bought the dogs from a quality breeder, not ” Michael Vick’s dogfighting emporium,” Blau told jurors in his closing argument. The reference was to the former NFL quarterback who went to federal prison over involvement in a dogfighting ring.
The dogs’ breeder, Krystina Shumate of Iron Throne Kennels, wept during her testimony as a defense witness.
“I was absolutely devastated. I couldn’t believe it,” she said of the deadly attack on Short. “This isn’t something that my dogs do. This isn’t something that my dogs do.”
Defense witness Michelle Huddleston described the dogs as “super, super sweet” and recalled how they played with her grandson. She also said she saw Burks fixing the fence multiple times.
“He was always trying to keep them corralled,” she said. “I never had any kind of fear of anything from them.”
The trial began Monday after multiple delays caused by legal disputes over which judge should preside over the trial.
Neighbors of the victim testified for the prosecution about seeing the dogs roaming loose over and over. They told jurors Burks knew because he would apologize on the Nextdoor app.
“There was always an acknowledgment and an excuse,” one prosecution witness, John Mallory, said.
He described how he kept the dogs away from frightened children in the days before Short was killed. Eventually that day, he confined them to fenced-in tennis courts.
Witnesses told jurors about arming themselves because of the dogs and about how they would not let children in their care play outside. One witness described how the dogs acted aggressively as he and his wife walked a puppy.
One neighbor distributed a flyer in the neighborhood after seeing the dogs try to get at another dog on Oct. 30, 2016. A male on a bicycle got between the dogs and their target, according to testimony.
The flyer described the confrontation as a dog attack. It gave Burks’ address, stated the two “vicious animals” were associated with that location and that the police should be called if they are seen.
After killing Short and dragging her body into a yard, the dogs hovered around their kill, according to testimony Tuesday. Witnesses honked their car horns and tried to check on the victim. But they got only a few feet before rushing back to their cars.
“Oh my God! Oh my God!” one 911 caller said in a recording played for jurors.
“I pray to God she’s not dead but there’s blood everywhere,” another 911 caller said.
Police and firefighters used their sirens to shoo the dogs away from the victim. One police officer told jurors he then shot both dogs.
Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright explained the dogs had started charging back as firefighters checked the victim’s condition. The female dog went down, according to his testimony. The male dog did not.
Jurors were told the female dog then got back up, and another police officer struck her with a patrol car. She got back up again and fled to Burks’ house, where she was caught by an animal control officer.
Police Master Sgt. Bernie Alfred killed the male dog with a shotgun to protect an elderly couple walking nearby.
Burks did not testify. He was in Ponca City at the time of the attack.
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