Justin Lamar Dillard lost an old-school shootout back on November 10. That's when Dillard pulled a gun on the front yard of an apartment complex in Greer, South Carolina. Rusty Jones, one of the complex's residents, drew his own handgun and shot first -- firing off four rounds. Three adults and five kids watched Dillard fall dead on the spot.
The quick-fire Jones fled. But when he turned himself in to police later, everyone knew the outcome: Nobody would convict the man for murder. No doubt he was acting in self-defense, and cops released him.
Owners of a Husky mix on death row in Broward County have been making the same argument now for seven months. They say Brandie killed a poodle in self-defense that
had lunged at her.
The mother-in-law of Lon Lipsky, Brandie's owner, was walking the dog in May in Coconut Creek when the incident happened. The mother-in-law claims a teacup poodle named Jack came storming down the driveway of a home and attacked. Brandie, the argument goes, reacted in self-defense and bit the poodle to death.
It's not uncommon for dogs to be killed if people fear they're going to attack. In October, a jury acquitted a Nebraska woman who had shot a dog that had entered her back yard. That dog wasn't even attacking, but the woman argued that she feared it anyway.
Last month in Lakeland, a man shot a cat that had attacked his dog. He argued that the shooting was in self-defense, and cops dismissed charges against him, even though the cat's owner argued that the animal caused no real threat.
But the self-defense argument for Brandie is muddled by two problems. First, Jack's owners say their tiny poodle never left their driveway. Tim Keller, a Broward County animal control investigator, agreed. Keller ruled that Jack was on his owner's property at the time of the attack.
Beating a murder charge using self-defense gets tricky when the suspect is on someone else's property. A search of such cases on the legal database Westlaw turned up nothing. In the South Carolina shooting, it's unlikely that Rusty Jones would be free today if he had fired those four shots on Dillard's property.
The second issue with the self-defense argument for Brandie is the fact that Jack was a teacup poodle, which typically weigh no more than a few pounds and can fit in their owner's hands. To claim self-defense, Brandie's owners must say that the dog feared for its life. Perhaps Jack could've lunged for Brandie's neck, severed an artery, and watched the husky bleed to death. But it's unlikely.
So far, judges seem unwilling to believe Brandie's self-defense claim. The case has languished in the court system for seven months now. Meanwhile, Brandie's owners have appealed to outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist for clemency.
Like everyone else in the case, Crist's possible pardon may lie in whether he believes it's OK to kill a charging teacup poodle running down its driveway.
UPDATE: Brandie the dog has been spared. The County Commission and Brandie's owner are finalizing a deal to allow her back home, with some conditions. Read more here.