The South Carolina Supreme Court has reinstated the conviction of a Dillon County man whose dogs killed a 10-year-old boy, Post and Courier reports.
The state Supreme Court on Wednesday, August 20, reversed a lower court's decision overturning Bentley Collins' conviction and sentence for involuntary manslaughter and owning dangerous animals, according to the Associated Press.
John Matthew Davis, 10, was found dead by the boy’s mother and the police after his body had been apparently ravaged by Collin’s six Pit Bull-mix dogs in the driveway of Bentley Collins’ residence on Home Light Road in the Emanuelville community in Dillon County.
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A Dillon County jury found Bentley Collins guilty of one count of involuntary manslaughter and three counts of owning a dangerous animal in connection with the death of Matthew Davis, according to SCNow. Collins was sentenced to five years in prison and was also required to pay for the boy’s funeral.
The South Carolina Court of Appeals overturned the conviction. "Because we find the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the photos, we reverse and remand for a new trial," wrote Chief Judge John C. Few in the majority opinion.
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The appellate judges wrote that Circuit Court Judge Paul Burch erred when he allowed 10 pre-autopsy photos of the child's partially eaten body to be distributed to jurors.
The pre-autopsy photos were raised at the original trial, SCNow reports. The prosecution argued then that the probative value of the photos was primarily to establish that the dogs’ attack on the boy was unprovoked.
The state theorized that Collins underfed the dogs; therefore, hunger caused their aggression and the photos were needed by the pathologist to show that the dogs actually ate the boy’s body and to corroborate the testimony of the dog behavior expert called by the state, the report states.
However, Few wrote that “given the intense emotional reaction caused by viewing these photos, we cannot say that their admission into evidence was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”
In an excerpt from the South Carolina Supreme Court decision, the following description is provided of the death of 10-year-old John Matthew Davis:
“On November 3, 2006, the mother of the victim returned to her home in Dillon County around 7:00 p.m. and discovered that her ten-year-old son had not come home for dinner at 5:30 p.m. as expected. She checked with her aunt, who resided with her, and then began looking around the neighborhood. She called the police when she could not find her son. The police arrived and the mother rode with them as they scoured the neighborhood. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., they discovered the boy's body on the ground in Collins's yard, with a group of dogs nearby. The mother poignantly recalled that her son "was tore to pieces. Pieces."
“The mother and the police tried to get to the boy, but the dogs ran at them each time they approached his body. Agents from SLED arrived, and they could not process the crime scene until animal control employees arrived to capture and remove the dogs from the scene.
“Neither Collins nor any of his family members were at home. Collins had six dogs on the premises, all of which were unrestrained. Collins had no fence or dog pens, and neighbors reported that he never kept his dogs on leashes or chains. Most of the dogs appeared to be pitbull mixes. The three largest dogs weighed 47 pounds, 44 pounds, and 36 pounds, respectively, and they ranged in age from about one to two years old. Several of the dogs had bite wounds on their shoulders, which was indicative of dog fighting. One of the female dogs captured was determined to be in heat.
“An autopsy of the victim revealed the boy died of extensive traumatic injury secondary to being severely mauled by dogs. According to the forensic pathologist, Edward Proctor, the boy suffered a "tremendous number" of bite marks on his legs and had "extensive" loss of skin and soft tissue on his upper body and his face, including his ears and nose, which were "completely eaten away" by the dogs. Areas of the boy's chest and his arm had also been eaten, exposing the bone. The boy's jugular vein on the left side was torn in half, causing significant blood loss leading to his death. The pathologist determined the boy "would have been alive until the injuries to the neck that transected the blood vessel in the neck allowing him to bleed enough until he either became unconscious or expired." http://www.judicial.state.sc.us/opinions/HTMLFiles/SC/27439.pdf