April 12 2017 12:20 AM

Dogs accused of goat killing win retrial in Ionia County

Mario, Luigi and Major could be headed for freedom rather than euthanasia. The trio of dogs were ordered destroyed by 64-A District Court Judge Raymond Voet July 27 after a one-day trial.

Their crimes? Running at large and being found in a goat pen with three dead goats.

But Voet reversed himself and granted a new trial on March 22. He agreed with the attorneys for the canines’ human companions that the court had not heard all the evidence in the case.

“I think the judge realized there was evidence not brought forward” during the July 27 hearing, attorney Celeste Dunn said. In that hearing, dog owners Susan Vamvakias and Allen Hustin represented themselves against Ionia County Assistant Prosecutor Adam Dreher.

Dreher contended the three dogs were the killers of the goats. Why? They were found in the goat pen with the deceased goats after having broken loose from Vamvakias’ backyard early on the morning of July 8. Under Michigan law, dogs that kill livestock or cause property damage are subject to euthanasia or destroy hearings if the prosecutor shows that the animal was more likely than not to have committed a crime, as opposed to proof beyond a reasonable doubt for humans.

After that July hearing, Vamvakias found out animal control officials, whom the prosecutor was representing, did not believe the dogs should be destroyed. He also that a consulting veterinarian for the animal control facility determined the goats had died hours before the dogs were found. A timeline of sightings of the dogs, pieced together by the defense attorneys made it virtually impossible for the dogs to have been responsible for the goats’ slaughter. They also found that Michigan wildlife officials had issued a coyote warning for the area where the goats died.

Dunn said she had hoped the prosecution would drop the matter and let the animals go home.

Luigi and Mario are pitbulls owned by Hustin. He lives in North Carolina and got the dogs on the recommendation of the Wounded Warrior Foundation to help him address PTSD-related to his service in Iraq. Both dogs would return to North Carolina, while Major is owned by Vamvakias and would remain in Ionia County.

“There’s no risk of them reoffending in Michigan,” said David, who is also defending Mario and Luigi.

The new hearing is slated for 1 p.m. Monday before Voet.