Update: Jose Hernandez was acquitted of criminally negligent homicide on March 22, 2007.
“He should have known better. He ought to have been aware of the unreliable and substantial risk that the dogs posed to their neighbors and their families”…
These are the words of Dan Cervenka, an assistant district attorney for Milam County, Texas. Milam County includes the town of Thorndale where in 2005 an elderly woman named Lillian Stiles was mauled to death by possibly as many as six dogs (five “pitbull” mixes and one Rottweiler mix) owned by Jose Hernandez. Hernandez is now on trial accused of criminally negligent homicide.
No one disputes that Stiles’ death was horrific. Nor would it surprise anyone if Hernandez was found to be negligent. But was Hernandez negligent? When Cervenka said “[Hernandez] should have known better” he meant that there is a reasonable expectation that if one’s dogs are not secured, which on the day Stiles was killed Hernandez’s dogs were not secured behind their chain-link fence, that there is the potentiality for someone to have gotten hurt or killed. In other words, it is negligent to let dogs of any breed free-roam. But with no leash law, which there apparently isn’t in the county, it’s not illegal to let your pets free-roam. (And now you know why we consistently push so hard for leash laws where there aren’t any, or enforcement of leash laws where they exist.)
What is even more worrisome is the second part of Cervenka’s comments: “[Hernandez] ought to have been aware of the unreliable and substantial risk that the dogs posed to their neighbors and their families.” Should Hernandez have been aware of the risk his dogs posed to the neighborhood because they were free-roaming or because they were “pitbull” and Rottweiler mixes or both?