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Dog-mauling death case has new legal issues
Defense attorney has asked the judge to delay the trial, which is set for Tuesday.

Date published: 8/14/2005

By KEITH EPPS

Barring a requested delay, the trial of a woman charged in the horrific dog-mauling death of an 82-year-old Spotsylvania County woman will start Tuesday.

Deanna H. Large, 36, is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Authorities say Large owned the three pit bulls that attacked and killed Dorothy Sullivan outside Sullivan's home March 8.

If Commonwealth's Attorney William Neely's prosecution is successful, it would mark the first time in the state's history that someone had been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with an attack by roaming dogs.

Involuntary manslaughter carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

The trial is expected to last two days in Spotsylvania County Circuit Court. However, defense attorney Eugene Frost has filed a motion for a continuance that Judge Ann Hunter Simpson will consider tomorrow.

If Simpson grants the request, the trial would be postponed to a later date. Asked why he requested the delay, Frost said he did it for "logistical" reasons.

Large is also charged with three misdemeanor charges of allowing a dog to run at large. But those charges had already been separated from the felony charge as the result of a successful motion made by Frost. No trial date on those charges has been set.

Sullivan was in her yard with her Shih Tzu, Buttons, when the three roaming dogs attacked, killing the woman and the small dog.

The pit bulls were later captured and destroyed. Buttons was buried in the same casket with Sullivan.

Authorities said Large's dogs had killed other companion animals in the neighborhood in the weeks prior to Sullivan's death, including a German shepherd and a kitten, and that Large had been warned to keep them under control.

An animal control officer was in the Partlow area looking for the dogs when Sullivan was killed

The shocking nature of Sullivan's death, combined with the unprecedented involuntary-manslaughter charge, has garnered far-reaching interest in the case.

Sheriff's Maj. Michael Timm said there will be extra security measures whenever the trial takes place.

The case has also spurred a concerted effort to strengthen the state's dangerous-dog laws.

State Sen. Edd Houck, D-Spotsylvania, is in the midst of a push to have the law specifically spell out sanctions for owners of dogs that attack people or other animals.

Houck, who is currently gathering input from residents and law enforcement representatives, expects to present a bill at the next General Assembly session.

Neely has acknowledged that getting a felony conviction in this case is no sure thing, but he said he convinced that the facts support an involuntary-manslaughter conviction.

Frost disagrees. He said he doesn't not believe the felony charge is a proper one.

"I don't think the charge in this case is supported by the law," Frost said. "It clearly was a horrible, horrible thing that happened to Mrs. Sullivan. But this isn't the proper forum to change the law."

About two dozens witnesses have been subpoenaed in the case.

To reach KEITH EPPS: 540/374-5404kepps@freelancestar.com