By JESSICA FARRISH
BECKLEY, W.Va. — Attorneys for Jasper, a Beckley whippett dog which is set to be destroyed under a current order in Raleigh County Circuit Court, have appealed the case to the West Virginia Supreme Court in an effort to save the dog’s life.
The appeal marks the second time attorneys have taken Jasper’s case to the state’s highest court. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case in 2016. Now, justices will either decide to hear Jasper’s case or to let stand a euthanization order issued in Raleigh County.
Raleigh Magistrate Tomi Peck ordered Jasper to be destroyed, after his owner at the time, Brenda Jeffrey, had pleaded guilty in Raleigh Circuit Court of harboring a vicious dog, following three separate incidents involving a 4-year-old girl and her 8-year-old sister in 2014.
State justices are being asked to determine whether a new trial on the euthanasia order should be held in Raleigh Circuit Court.
In the appeal, attorneys in Jasper’s corner argue that Jeffrey did not understand that when she pleaded guilty to harboring a vicious animal in May 2015 that Jasper would be euthanized and that she also was denied due process in court once the court had started examining whether her property, the dog Jasper, was vicious, since she had failed to understand her legal rights as a defendant.
According to court documents, Jeffrey thought she was letting RCHS hold Jasper for 10 days when she signed papers for him to be transferred to RCHS. State attorneys disagree, writing that Jeffrey signed a document that plainly stated she was handing Jasper over to RCHS.
Attorney Roger Hanshaw, a state delegate who is advocating for Jasper as an attorney, argued in the appeal that Jeffrey’s rights were not upheld after her plea.
“Brenda Jeffrey’s guilty plea was not the end of the process,” Hanshaw wrote, adding that the second phase was akin to the penalty phase in a usual criminal proceeding. In the second phase, the court would decide the fate of Jeffrey’s personal property, Jasper.
Hanshaw said Jeffrey received no notice of court proceedings. She was subpoened as a witness but was not represented by an attorney of her own.
At a hearing before Kirkpatrick in Raleigh Circuit Court on Jan. 28, 2015 to determine Jasper’s fate, the judge ordered that Jeffrey lacked standing to participate in the criminal proceedings in the case and instead recognized the standing only of the RCHS.
On Feb. 11, 2015, Kirkpatrick entered an order granting a request by Raleigh prosecutors to euthanize the dog. On March 13, 2015, Jeffrey pleaded guilty to harboring a vicious animal.
RCHS moved for a stay of the order, and Kirkpatrick remanded the case back to magistrate court, where Peck found Jasper to be vicious and ordered him to be destroyed. At the magistrate hearing, Jeffrey testified as a witness instead of representing her own interests at a criminal proceeding, according to her legal team.
After the magistrate hearing, RCHS pushed for a writ of prohibition, and Jasper’s fate was once again before Kirkpatrick.
In January, Kirkpatrick ruled that Jeffrey’s time to appeal the magistrate’s decision had expired.
On Feb. 23, 2016, Kirkpatrick ruled that RCHS lacked standing to bring an appeal, affirming Peck’s decision. RCHS contested the decision for the first time in an appeal to the Supreme Court.
On Jan. 6, Supreme Court justices affirmed Kirkpatrick’s decision.
On Feb. 3, moments before Jasper was to be put down, the case was stayed after Jeffrey pushed for her legal rights as Jasper’s owner and her attorneys argued that she had not been given that opportunity.
On Feb. 15, attorneys Cindy Fernald and Tim Barber, who represented Jeffrey and her boyfriend as Jasper’s owners, asked Kirkpatrick to remand Jasper’s case to Magistrate Court and to set aside the January ruling to give Jeffrey time to launch an appeal.
Kirkpatrick upheld the execution, ruling that a veterinarian be present and honoring Fernald’s request that it occur at the RCHS animal shelter.
“This court has no authority or jurisdiction to set aside all that has been done in the case and to start over,” Kirkpatrick said, adding, “I take no pleasure at all in this, but the the dog, Jasper, must be destroyed.”
He gave a 30-day stay to allow Fernald and Barber time to file an appeal with the West Virginia Supreme Court.
A new trial would give RCHS attorneys, and attorneys for Jeffrey, an opportunity to present evidence showing that the children provoked Jasper and that Jasper’s behavior did not meet the legal definition required for “vicious animal.”
In February, attorneys on Jasper’s team argued before Raleigh County Circuit Judge H.L. Kirkpatrick that during one of the incidents, Jasper was tied on a leash outside and scratched the 8-year-old when she came onto the property.
Fernald noted in February that medical records showing the childrens’ injuries had not been released by the court to Jasper’s legal team. Kirkpatrick said the decision was made in an effort to protect the Health Insurance Portability Privacy Act (HIPPA) rights of the children.
In a Facebook post, Fernald reported that, according to Jeffrey, the children had provoked Jasper by riding their bikes past his house and teasing him while he was at the window.
Raleigh Assistant Prosecuting Attorney John Gallaher said in February that the incidents involved more than animal bites — an argument made again by a state attorney in a Sept. 28 response brief filed in the current appeal process.
“The attacks were severe, culminating in the 8-year-old’s arm being so badly mangled that it required multiple plastic and reconstructive surgeries,” wrote West Virginia Assistant Attorney General Gordon Mowen.
The girls’ mother, Angela Houck of Beckley, denied that her children provoked the dog and has said that two of the attacks happened while she was in her yard with the girls.
She reported in February that her daughter was riding her bike on the road when Jasper ran out of Jeffrey’s house and lunged for her 8-year-old daughter’s face. The girl blocked the attack with her right arm, and Jasper latched onto her elbow.
The injury required around 120 stitches to close and has required two minor surgeries and may require another major surgery this year, according to Houck, who is represented by Beckley attorney Gerald Hayden.
Houck reported that on another occasion the dog attacked her 4-year-old daughter by running onto the Houck property, grabbing the girl’s shirt and shaking her to the ground in the family driveway. The dog brew blood, and the incident required a trip to the emergency room, according to Houck. She said Jeffrey, who owned Jasper at the time, refused to provide official rabies vaccination to the county and to the Houck family.
Houck said Jasper also bit the 8-year-old’s knee in a minor incident prior to the serious injury, after Jeffrey’s son innocently dropped the dog’s leash to “prove” to the girl that Jasper wouldn’t hurt her. A family friend who is also a physician cleaned the minor wound, she said.
Houck said the children still have scars, including major scarring on the arm of the older sister.
County officials petitioned the state to euthanize the dog after the third and most severe reported incident.
Houck did not ask for Jasper to be euthanized but told local media that she supported Peck’s decision.
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