Original Story: Freep.com
The owners of two dogs that mauled to death a jogger in rural Metamora Township are being charged with second-degree murder, the Lapeer Prosecutor’s Office announced tonight.
Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, was already in custody Thursday night and his wife, Valbona Lucaj, 44, was expected to turn herself in shortly, Prosecutor Tim Turkelson told the Free Press.
The pair will be arraigned in Lapeer District court at 9 a.m. Friday. They face up to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder. Prosecutors also charged the couple with possessing an animal causing death.
Two Cane Corso dogs owned by the couple are blamed for attacking and killing Craig Sytsma, 46, of Livonia on July 23 as he jogged past their home on a rural Metamora Township road. Dogs owned by the couple had been involved in at least two previous, non-fatal attacks.
It’s unusual, but not unprecedented for a dog owner to be charged with murder in a fatal attack. When two large Perro de Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed lacrosse player and coach Diane Whipple in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in 2001, one of the dogs’ owners was convicted of second-degree murder and the other was convicted of involuntary manslaughter.
In 2008, a Livingston County woman was convicted on two 15-year felony counts of keeping dangerous animals causing death and sentenced to 3½ years in prison after her American bulldogs mauled to death a neighbor man and a woman who was jogging along the road in rural Iosco Township.
Sytsma, a father of three, had gotten off work in nearby Oxford, in northern Oakland County, and gone for an early evening jog when he was attacked. He died of his injuries at a nearby hospital.
Police and court records show that in the the past two years the couple’s dogs have attacked and bit walkers and terrorized the neighborhood.
The couple never showed up for a court hearing last year after the wife was issued two civil infraction tickets when their dogs charged an older man and bit him in the leg. Ultimately, they paid $280 in fines, and the case was closed.
In May 2012, one of Lucaj’s dogs charged April Smith, 25, tearing open her leg in three spots, as she walked down the road. In that case, animal control officials did not issue tickets, nor were the owners fined. Instead, they were ordered to keep the dog quarantined for 10 days. Smith filed a lawsuit against the dog owners and was awarded a $20,000 judgment.
Neighbors told the Free Press that the dogs roamed the neighborhood, growled at people in their own yards, and sometimes went into garages. Complaints to animal control officials went unanswered.
Meanwhile, federal officials say Lucaj, of Albania, and Quagliata, from Italy, are in the U.S. illegally. The couple has been fighting deportation for years.
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