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Dogfighting kingpin is paroled after serving less than 6 years of 40-year sentence

September 9, 2010

From Kentucky.Com
By Sammy Fretwell

When a judge sent pit bull breeder David Tant to prison in 2004, South Carolina prosecutors hailed the harsh 40-year sentence as an important milestone in their war against the bloody sport of dogfighting.

On Wednesday, the state parole board agreed to let Tant out of prison after serving less than six years of his sentence. Authorities once called Tant the nation’s No. 2 breeder of pit bull dogs, but the North Charleston resident told the parole board he is a changed man.

Wednesday’s 5-2 vote prompted heavy criticism from South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster and animal welfare activists, who said Tant’s crimes were too heinous to release him in the first year he was eligible.

“We had this man in our hands, and for this parole board to set him free – on his first request, in his very first parole eligibility date – I think is outrageous,” McMaster said after the parole hearing. “It is a bad day in South Carolina law enforcement.”

Tant, who pleaded guilty to dogfighting and assault charges in November 2004, should be released from prison by the end of September. As conditions of his parole, Tant will be subject to strict supervision, won’t be allowed to own dogs and must show he has income to support himself, said Peter O’Boyle, a spokesman for the state Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services.

Parole board members did not say why they agreed to release Tant, but the decision was unusual. About 15 percent of nonviolent offenders such as Tant who were up for parole last year were granted parole, O’Boyle said.

McMaster’s office prosecuted Tant, a nationally known breeder who activists said has produced hundreds of dogs for fighting across the U.S. and around the world. The 2004 sentence is one of the toughest ever in U.S. history for a person guilty on dogfighting charges, officials on both sides of the dispute agree.

Tant’s arrest and eventual guilty plea came at about the same time McMaster’s office was ramping up efforts to prosecute illegal dogfighters. Dogfighting attracts a criminal element to South Carolina, where fans bet thousands of dollars at clandestine matches, McMaster said.

The dogs, many of which are pit bulls, often fight to the death before cheering crowds. Since establishing an anti-dogfighting task force six years ago, McMaster has prosecuted dozens of people suspected of being involved in the business. Illegal drug dealing often is associated with dogfighting, he said.

McMaster said Tant has a history of breeding dogs. But Tant, 63, didn’t run into trouble until the spring of 2004, when a surveyor was shot by a booby trap near Tant’s property south of Charleston. Authorities investigated and, during a raid, seized dozens of dogs and equipment used to train dogs for fighting.

Tant was charged with assault and more than 40 counts of animal fighting. A condition of his guilty plea allowed Tant to have his sentence reduced to 30 years if he paid restitution. Tant paid more than $80,000, authorities said.

On Wednesday, Tant and his supporters said he wants nothing to do with his past life. A panel of the state parole board voted 2-1 two months ago to release Tant, which prompted Wednesday’s vote by the full seven-member parole board.

“David Ray Tant has gotten a sentence that defies most people’s reasonable imagination,” said Tant’s lawyer, state Rep. Doug Jennings.

Tant said he needs to help his elderly mother and his sister, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Jennings said Tant had a spotless record in prison.

Tant said he also has become active in prison ministries and will continue the work when released. And Jennings presented letters to the board showing that Tant had been offered jobs in carpentry and telemarketing in the Charleston area.

“I accept total responsibility for the wrong I did and for violating the law,” Tant said via telecast from state prison. “Never again will I have any involvement with the dogs or anything related to the dogs.”

While McMaster said the parole board’s decision shows why South Carolina should limit early release programs, Jennings said the system worked as it is intended “This particular case also has sent, appropriately, a very strong message to the whole nation that South Carolina treats dogfighting in very serious manner,” Jennings said. ” … Now it is time to allow David Ray Tant to have the benefit of parole.”

The parole board voted without any public discussion and members were unavailable immediately after the meeting for comment. A message left with the Department of Probation, Parole and Pardon Services requesting their comment went unreturned. Board members voting against releasing Tant were the chair, Karen Walto, and the vice-chair, C. David Baxter, O’Boyle said.

Animal welfare activist Charlie Karesh and former parole board chairman Dwayne Green said it appears the board didn’t perceive animal fighting as serious as other crimes. Family members of crime victims often attend parole hearings, but in this case, the victims were dogs.

“It goes back to educating this panel about animals being victims, and they just don’t seem to understand that,” said Karesh, a board member of the Charleston Animal Society.

Green, hired by animal welfare activists to speak against releasing Tant, said Tant had all the ammunition he needed. He had family support and a clean record in prison. And a man who was shot by a booby trap on Tant’s property during the police raid also supported parole, Green said.

“If you want the stars to align as far as all positive factors for parole, he pretty much had it,” Green said.

Dogfighting Kingpin David Tant Up For Parole, please oppose

One Comment leave one →
  1. MICHELLE MOREL permalink
    September 9, 2010 3:46 pm



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