13 January 2015
The dog fighting and animal cruelty trial of Brenton Mathis, 40, of Palmyra came to an unexpected halt on Saturday, Jan. 10.
Fluvanna County Circuit Court Judge Susan R. Whitlock declared a mistrial because an evidence technician removed items from the courthouse that had been placed into evidence during the trial and displayed to the jury, thus tainting it.
Whitlock, who described herself as “quite furious” about the incident, granted defense attorney Terry Hughes’ request for a mistrial.
The items, chains that had secured dogs to stakes in the ground, were an integral part of the prosecution’s evidence asserting that Mathis’ dogs were being trained for dog fighting.
The chains were described by Carol Bisset, a veterinarian from the office of the state veterinarian in Richmond, as inappropriately heavy for the dogs. The chains, referred to as “logging” chains, are sometimes used to secure fighting dogs because the weight of the chains helps increase the muscle mass in the dogs’ neck, shoulder and chest making the dog a more powerful adversary in a fight.
Assistant County Commonwealth’s Attorney Frank Terwilliger asked the judge not to grant the mistrial, saying the evidence was in the locker where it had been stored for the last 12 months and was being returned to the courthouse by the evidence technician.
The judge said she would have “no faith in the testimony of the officer who removed the items from the courthouse.”
“Once we introduce evidence as an exhibit, it becomes part of the case file; so we were not aware anything had happened until Saturday morning,” said Fluvanna County Commonwealth’s Attorney Jeff Haislip about the mishandling of evidence. “The sheriff’s office has said that they are investigating what happened; once they have a chance to complete that investigation, we will sit down with folks from the clerk’s office and the sheriff’s office to ensure that they have procedures in place so that this never happens again.”
“I just think it is a shame - the jurors were there for two long days; our office invested a year in this case, as did all the different agencies who contributed. To be that close to an outcome and have something like this happen was very disappointing,” Haislip added.