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Pit Bulls That Killed Child Are Put to Death

February 27, 1987

DECATUR, Ga. (AP) _ Two of three pit bulls that killed a 4-year-old boy were put to death Friday, the day after their master was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years in prison.

The dogs Caesar and Rock Jaw were destroyed, said Chuck Johnson, a spokesman for the DeKalb County Public Safety Department. The third, Raw Dog, died of natural causes in the county animal shelter about a month ago.

In addition to the prison sentence, Hayward Turnipseed was sentenced to five years’ probation.

Turnipseed, 25, also faces a $2 million wrongful death lawsuit filed against him by the parents of Billy Ray Gordon Jr., who was mauled to death in November. The boy’s 11-year-old cousin escaped the attack.

The guilty verdict was the first in Georgia where an individual has been held criminally responsible for the independent actions of his pets, according to assistant district attorney John Petrie.

The foreman of the jury said the decision was reached after ″painful discussion.″

″This wasn’t simply a case where there was a tragic accident where a child died,″ said the Rev. Dr. James Watkins. ″There was repeated behavior, repeated evidence and tragic evidence of disregard for the safety of the community.″

Watkins said the jurors never doubted that Turnipseed was guilty of reckless conduct, but agonized over whether to ″make the leap″ from reckless conduct to involuntary manslaughter.

″That’s what took the 2 1/2 hours and at the end of the 2 1/2 hours the whole jury felt that, yes, the facts of the case warrant that verdict,″ Watkins said.

Watkins said the jury was unswayed by the emotion Turnipseed displayed when a witness described the child’s death.

″I think we all wept when we heard the testimony ... of the next-door neighbor who ran to her door and found the child who survived falling in her door and describing the rest of the scene and the dog with the blood coming down its throat and the Gordon child lying there,″ Watkins said.

″It is tragic, but we can’t judge a case on sadness and tears. We have to judge the case on what the law says.″

Watkins said he also agreed with the judge’s decision to sentence Turnipseed to jail, especially in light of Turnipseed’s prior convictions for robbery and aggravated assault, convictions of which the jury was unaware.

Defense attorney Donald Samuel said he would appeal the verdict.

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