Judge Maureen Cronin said details of the dogfighting activity made her sick.
By BOB JACKSON
VINDICATOR COURTHOUSE REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Zaccheus James said he was in the wrong place at the wrong time when agents arrested him and three others last year for running a dogfighting operation.
His lawyer, Robert J. Rohrbaugh II, said James was actually trying to nurse the battle-scarred dogs back to health, but Judge Maureen A. Cronin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court didn't buy it.
She sentenced James, 24, of Cassius Avenue, to 18 months in prison and let him know what she thought of his activities.
"This makes me sick," the judge said. "You have to have no soul, to stand by and watch anybody -- human or dog or whatever -- kill another by chewing them to death."
James had pleaded guilty to two counts of dogfighting and one count of marijuana possession.
Charges pending: Dogfighting charges are pending against Stanley Jones of South Garland Avenue, Eithyer L. Ramos of Campbell and a male juvenile.
Agent Bill Lesho of the Ohio Department of Agriculture's dogfighting task force said he hopes the sentence gets the word out that such crimes won't be tolerated.
The task force was formed in August 2001 and is co-chaired by Lt. Gov. Maureen O'Connor and Ohio Agriculture Director Fred L. Dailey.
According to information on the task force Web site, dogfighting is a growing and persistent problem that has proved to be among the most difficult for local law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute. It also has a direct correlation to drugs and other illegal activities.
Getting involved: Lesho said the state got involved when a local elected official, whom he would not name, heard about the dogfighting operation and called the task force. Surveillance equipment was set up to monitor activity at James' home and a fight was caught on video.
Judge Cronin, reading from a background report, said investigators observed a pit bull break loose from its pen and attack another dog that was chained outside a pen.
James and three other people came outside during the fight and watched, making no effort to break it up.
Instead, James brought over another dog to fight with the one that had broken loose.
Rohrbaugh said James keeps a kennel on his property and harbors dogs that are owned by other people and have been injured in dogfights. He said the fight that was caught on tape was not done for sport but was a spontaneous fight among dogs.
Dog Warden Carol Markovich assisted with the investigation and the raid on James' home in which 13 dogs were taken.
"It was a disturbing sight," Markovich said.
Lesho said there are two types of dogfighting: organized fighting, which involves crowds and betting; and street fighting, in which people watch for amusement. James' operation was in the street-fighting category, he said.