A woman will pay for her dogs’ aggressive behavior — and perpetrated killings — for the next three-and-a-half to 15 years in prison.
Diane Cockrell, 56, of Livingston County, Mich., was sentenced on Sept. 18, after she plead guilty to two felony counts of keeping dangerous animals that caused the death of two neighbors.
Four of Cockrell’s 10 American Bulldogs dug a hole under a fence and escaped from her backyard, mauling and killing Edward Gierlach, 91, and Cheryl Harper, 56.
Livingston County detective Sean Furlong said at least one of the dogs had previously been cited for aggressive behavior.
At the request of local animal control services, Cockrell agreed to euthanize all of her dogs following the incident.
Furlong described the initial crime scene as “gruesome and horrific.”
“We were alerted to the case after one of the victim’s sons found his father lying on the front lawn and notified police,” Furlong said.
The attacks appear to be unprovoked, as the dogs charged Gierlach when he was gardening in his front lawn and Harper when she was taking a walk.
Cockrell, who knew both victims, expressed remorse at the trial, and said that 100 years in prison would not take away the sorrow she feels, according to The Detroit News.
“Mr. Ed was very special. He was such a good person,” she reportedly said of Gierlach.
In Michigan, owning a dangerous animal that causes death is equivalent to a second-degree murder charge.
Furlong said he was not surprised with the verdict and was pleased with the case’s proceedings.
“I think it was tragic for everybody involved, and as Cockrell ended up pleading guilty, I think it was a good resolution for all,” he said. “This way, the families didn’t have to go through the tragedy of what a trial could have brought.”
A California woman whose dogs killed her neighbor seven years ago was also sentenced on Monday, but will serve a more severe sentence of 15 years to life in prison.
Marjorie Kroller was first convicted of second-degree murder in 2001, but the case recently resurfaced when the California Supreme Court said the initial trial judge was wrong, The Associated Press reported.
Now Kroller, who didn’t call 911 after the attack or try to help the victim, Dianne Whipple, will have to serve 12 more years before she can apply for parole.
Suffering from a fatal dog attack is about as likely as getting struck by lighting, Humane Society of the United States issues specialist Adam Goldfarb says.
“These situations where a dog kills a human don’t just happen out of the blue,” he said. “You won’t normally find a nice dog that just suddenly turned. In fatal dog attacks, you will overwhelmingly find the dogs have a history of aggression.”
While these attacks can happen anywhere, states possess different animal-related laws, which have a “great variety in terms of severity and consequences,” Godlfab said.
Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota make up the “small minority” of states that don’t classify animal cruelty charges as a felony, he said.
Goldfarb recalled two similar recent cases in Virginia and Texas, and said the consequences for both dog owners “were pretty strict.”
Tightening laws to ensure owners are held responsible for their pets’ actions is an increasing trend across the country, Goldfarb said, and people should expect to see more severe legal action in coming years.
“When you own anything, you have to be responsible for it,” he said. “If you own a swimming pool, you have to be sure to fence it so children don’t wander over and fall in.
“I think of dogs in the same vein. Normally they are nice and fine, but with every single dog there is potential to do harm and owners have to be aware of that.”