New Trial to Begin in Boynton Beach Dogfighting Case

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Paul Green worked as a sanitation worker for Boynton Beach for 17 years and never received a major complaint. He was on a bowling team and coached teams for the Police Athletic League — a program organized by cops to keep kids out of trouble. "He's just your average blue-collar Joe in practically every way," says his attorney, Robert Pasch. "He's a quiet, blue-jeans-and-T-shirt-type guy who sold dogs as pets. He has steadfastly denied these allegations from the first moments of his arrest and has never wavered."

Green did have a criminal record, though. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault and weapons-possession charges and served probation in the late '90s. Norfus too has been on probation — for a drug possession charge in 2003. But nothing in their criminal histories pointed to dogfighting.

As far as police and the State Attorney's Office were concerned, though, the case would be the most compelling application of new dogfighting laws yet. In 2003, on suggestions from animal control officials across the state, the Florida Legislature passed new statutes on animal fighting. The new rules allowed for all participants at a dogfight — even spectators — to be charged with a felony. Language was added to specify that prosecutors do not need a witness to a fight to convict on dogfighting charges.

Although prosecutors didn't have any witnesses that would testify they saw Norfus, Green, and Denson fight dogs, the evidence — the pit, the treadmill, the drugs — seemed overwhelming. The case, they thought, would be a cinch.

After a year and a half of delays, the trial finally began on January 12, 2009, on the 11th floor of the immaculate Palm Beach County Courthouse.

Assistant State Attorney Destinie Baker presented the state's evidence against Green, Norfus, and Denson to a six-person jury, four men and two women. She showed them the steroids and the staple gun, the old issues of Sporting Dog Journal, and the breeding papers. Cops had confiscated business cards from pit bull breeders around the country; one card had a tiny stenciled image of pit bulls locked in combat, each dog's jaw attached to the other's throat. The jury saw the photos on Denson's cell phone of two scarred pit bulls breeding, as well as the cured animal hide and the breakstick, covered in bite marks. With the help of Roehrich, Baker struggled to assemble the 12-by-12-foot plywood pit, complete with bloody carpet, in the middle of the courtroom.

One by one, Baker introduced the jury to photos of the 15 dogs taken into custody during the raids. "These are the victims in the case," she explained. Some, she said, had been bred to kill. Others were used for bait. Two dogs in particular, a male and a female, had severe facial scarring. The male's name was Pain. The female, a spry, aggressive dog with a coat the color of corn flakes, was named Coffee. Coffee's nostrils were gashed; thin pink lines crossed in every direction across her jowls and her front paws.

Jurors did not, however, see the arc welder found inside Norfus' house. There was no flesh or fur on the machine to link it to any animals, it wasn't found near any of the dogs, and Norfus is a contractor whose job could reasonably call for such a device, so the court ruled it inadmissible.

Roehrich testified that all the items were telltale signs of dogfighting, the kind she'd been trained repeatedly to sniff out and had seen dozens of times in her career. "Anyone who knows anything about dogfighting looks at these items and knows in one second these guys were fighting dogs," she insisted.

Dr. Fran Chiulli, a Palm Beach County veterinarian who'd examined the dogs, testified that they were aggressive toward other animals and had scarring "consistent with dogfighting." Under cross examination, however, Chiulli admitted she had no formal training or experience dealing with dogfighting.

Defense attorneys suggested to the jury that Roehrich had a personal reason for initiating the bust. In 2007, officials in Boynton Beach had been on the verge of axing the animal control department for budgetary reasons and turning related responsibilities over to the county. Roehrich's job could have been eliminated in the process. It was about then that this entire investigation got under way, Green's attorney, Robert Pasche, told the jury. "Liz Roehrich is credited with bringing down this ring, when there is no ring," Pasche said. "Then all of a sudden, Boynton Beach animal control is off the chopping block."

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Michael J. Mooney