Pittsburgh dog fighter gets stiff sentence for cruelty

There's been a wave of chatter across social media and no doubt at dinner tables across the country about guilt and innocence and justice since the George Zimmerman verdict was announced late Saturday.

Amid the heated reaction from all corners, NAACP president Ben Jealous even raised the specter of Michael Vick in an interview, saying he went to federal prison for "killing a dog."

Well, no he didn't.

Vick didn't get 18 months in the federal slammer for torturing his dogs - though he admittted doing unthinkable things to defenseless animals - he went to prison for engaging in the illegal interstate trafficking of fighting dogs.

And that brings us to the extraordinary sentence in a Pittsburgh dog fighting case.

While dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, one rarely sees prison sentences when even convictions are difficult.

We almost never a sentence like the one handed down by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Thomas Flaherty last week.

Convicted dog fighter Darryl Bryant. 49, was sentenced to between three years and six and a half years behind bars.

Bryant, of Wilkinsburg, also received 11 years probation, during which time he is forbidden to own, care for or interact with a dog.

Bryant - like Vick - electrocuted dogs who didn't perform in the ring.

Witnesses told the court Wednesday that the 13 dogs seized from Bryant were "emotionally traumatized" and unsocialized and that all but two of them had to be euthanized, according to a report in the PIttsburgh Post-Gazette.

"Possibly to the very end, those dogs put their care, trust and confidence in Mr. Bryant, and he let them down," the judge said before announcing the sentence. Judge Flaherty told the court he sees dogfighting "as a crime that has reverberations on society," and that he wanted to pass a fair sentence that would stand, as well as "deter others from dogfighting."

The Humane Society of the United States assisted with the investigation and the raid on Bryant's blood-splattered house.

 "We are thrilled that both law enforcement and the courts have taken this case so seriously and have given a sentence that will serve as a serious warning to anyone considering engaging in dogfighting in the Commonwealth," said the HSUS's Pennsylvania state director Sarah Speed, who testified in the trial.

Court records show Bryant was charged with animal cruelty at least twice before, the newspaper reported. He was charged with three felony animal fighting counts from July 2009 that were dismissed, and -- in a case that was withdrawn -- he was charged with cruelty to animals in May 2001..

It is a third-degree felony to own, possess, keep, or train a dog for the purpose of dogfighting in Pennsylvania. Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) has introduced a bill that would ban the possession of dog fighting paraphernalia.

Stephens, a former prosecutor, says his legislation - which passed unanimously in the House earlier this year - would allow law enforcement to arrest and prosecute individuals for possessing dog fighting equipment, such as scales and treadmills, even when no dogs are present.