LAPEER (WWJ/AP) – A couple whose two dogs fatally mauled a 46-year-old jogger on a rural Michigan road have been charged with murder.
Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, and Valbona Lucaj, 44, were arraigned Friday in Lapeer District Court on charges of second-degree murder and possessing a dangerous animal causing death.
Craig Sytsma, of Livonia, was out for a jog after work last Wednesday when he was attacked by two cane corso dogs in Metamora Township, about 45 miles northwest of Detroit. He later died from his wounds.
Authorities said it was the third attack by Quagliata and Lucaj’s dogs in the past two years. The couple was apparently breeding dogs at their property, officials said.
Bond was set at $500,000 each. They face live in prison if convicted.
Federal authorities say Quagliata and Lucaj are living in the U.S. illegally and were facing imminent deportation at the time of the attack, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press. Lucaj is a native of Albania and Quagliata is from Italy. Both have been in the U.S. since the late 1990s.
As for how their citizenship status may impact court proceedings, WWJ Legal Analyist Charlie Langton says the law is clear: If they are convicted of a crime, they will do their time here first, and then get shipped off. “Criminal courts take precedent over the immigration courts,” he said.
Lapeer County Prosecutor Michael Hodges asked for a $1 million bond for each defendant, noting their questionable citizenship. “The concern we have is of flight,” Hodges said, according to the Free Press.
Quagliata’s attorney, Jason Malkiewicz, says his client still retains his green card and has no criminal history.
It was unclear if the pair would post bond.
A pretrial hearing was set for Aug 6 at 3 p.m. before Judge Laura Barnard..
Meantime, a hearing originally scheduled for Friday to decide whether the dogs involved in the attack, a third adult dog and multiple puppies would be euthanized was postponed. The dogs were removed from the couple’s home days after the deadly attack.
“The indication from talking to my experts in animal control is that with that bloodline now, they just can’t be trusted,” Assistant Lapeer County Prosecutor Mike Hodges told WWJ’s Sandra McNeill.
“We either seize the animals, put them down or adopt them out. And then if we adopted them out, we’re nervous that they’re going to come back and again it’s, ‘Well, you knew these were dangerous animals,’” he said.
Hodges described the two Cane Corsos that attacked Sytsma as being about 2 to 2 1/2 feet tall.
“They are not huge, but they are quite aggressive,” he said. “I’ve never seen an adult mauling like this.”
The dogs involved in the attack have a history of escaping from their kennel and have bitten at least twice before, Hodges said.
Detroit-area attorney Glenn Saltsman said he has two clients who were bitten by dogs while walking near the couple’s property.
One man “said he thought the dogs were going to kill him,” Saltsman said. “The adult dog big him in the leg.”
The other, April Smith, was attacked in May 2012 as she and her sister walked their dog.
“The same corso charged from the house and just nailed her from behind,” Saltsman said. “Bit her pretty good in the calf.”
Police investigated both incidents and turned the cases over to animal control officials. The owners were ticketed, but the dogs never were removed, according to Saltsman.
Smith sued the owners and reached a $20,000 settlement that has not yet been paid. Saltsman said he has not yet filed a suit in last November’s attack.
According to the American Kennel Club, a Cane Corso is a muscular and large-boned dog breed in the working group. A native of Italy, the Cane Corso was historically kept as a property watchdog that hunted wild boar. Today, Cane Corsos are known to be affectionate to their owner and bond closely with children and family, the AKC says. The large and athletic breed needs a lot of exercise, but can be easily trained.
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