Willbur also suggested that race may have played a part in the case. "I don't think it's coincidental that the Michael Vick case came up, with all the publicity around that, then this arrest occurs with as little evidence as they have as far as actual dogfighting, and we have three black defendants."

Then the defense attorneys called a vet of their own. Dr. Dale Porcher, from West Palm Beach, breeds Staffordshire bull terriers — a close cousin of the pit bull — and competes in the American Kennel Club show circuit. He has shown his dogs at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show in Madison Square Garden, the Super Bowl of dog shows. He was, defense attorneys told the jury, "possibly the most qualified veterinarian on pit bulls in the country."

Porcher testified that he had never met the defendants but that it was not out of the question for breeders of nonfighting show dogs, like his, to have the equipment found in the raids. He told the jury that every responsible pit bull owner should have a breakstick or some other plan in case these powerful dogs should happen to latch on to something. And several breeds of dog legitimately work out on treadmills, Porcher explained. "Just because you have a heavy bag hung up in your garage doesn't mean you're a prizefighter," he said after the trial.

Sam Denson.
Courtesy Palm Beach Sheriffs Office
Sam Denson.
Ricky Norfus.
Courtesy Palm Beach Sheriffs Office
Ricky Norfus.

Porcher feared his business would suffer when people in the community saw his name associated with the defense team in a dogfighting case but said he testified because he saw this case as a possible precursor to breed-specific legislation. "I owed it to the people who have pit bull-type dogs and don't fight them," he would say afterward, "which is 99.99 percent of them."

The trial lasted five days. Then the fate of Denson, Green, and Norfus was in the hands of the jury. Deliberations began on a Friday afternoon.

Liz Roehrich attended most of the trial but also had to tend to the constant calls, the bottomless pit of paperwork, and all the animals passing through her office.

She was worried when the jury did not quickly return a verdict Monday morning. (Despite the drama of Hollywood, more than 90 percent of criminal trials end with a guilty verdict.) That Tuesday, she was sitting at her desk, smoking a Camel No. 9, when she got a call. The jury was back. When she put the phone down, the usually talkative Roehrich was speechless.

After three days of deliberation, the foreperson told Circuit Judge Krista Marx that the jury could not reach a verdict. They couldn't agree on whom to believe. Two wanted to convict. Four wanted to acquit. They were hopelessly deadlocked.

A new trial is now set for December. This time, the state plans to call even more experts to convince the jury that they're looking at dogfighting paraphernalia.

Defense attorneys point out that the state's case is still weak without witnesses. Willbur equates the new statutes to laws that deal with head shops and drug paraphernalia: It's legal to make, buy, or sell a glass pipe that could potentially be used for illegal narcotics because it could also be used for, say, tobacco. "It's what the user does with it that makes it illegal, not the bong itself," Willbur says.

Two years with charges hanging over their heads seems to have taken a toll on the defendants. Paul Green had to move out of the neighborhood where he's lived his entire life. "Boynton Beach is a small town," says his attorney, Pasche. "Everybody is everybody's cousin. Dogfighting has been a scarlet letter." Furthermore, with felony charges pending, Green was suspended without pay from the sanitation job he'd held for 17 years. "To have that kind of stigma wrongfully associated, it has absolutely affected every part of every day of his life. All for a case that ultimately came back deadlocked."

On a Sunday morning in late September of this year — nearly two years to the day since the raids — Liz Roehrich was driving around the neighborhood where this whole thing started. She passed the house where Green used to live. Then Ricky Norfus' mother's house, down the street. Then Sam Denson's house, which has been painted orange since the arrests. Though there don't appear to be any pit bulls on the property, there is still a "Beware of Dog" sign on the fence.

She says that since the very public arrests, the problems with dogfighting in Boynton Beach are essentially gone. "This is a result of good, solid police work we started doing in the '90s and neighborhoods taking responsibility," she said. "No matter what they like to say, we didn't start investigating when Michael Vick got arrested."

Of all the personal accusations in this case, Roehrich, who is white, says the one that bothers her the most is Willbur's suggestion that she is racist. "I don't have a prejudiced bone in my body!" she declares.

Willbur maintains that his client and his friends never fought any dogs. "As a matter of fact," he says, "the only people we can see hurting any dogs in this case at all was the City of Boynton Beach, because they euthanized every one of them." In December 2007, three months after the dogs were seized, a county veterinarian put down all 15 dogs.

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