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Vick case building momentum for dogfighting bill

ATLANTA - The publicity surrounding the Michael Vick case should be enough to spur passage of a crackdown on dogfighting that has been languishing in the General Assembly, the bill's chief sponsor said Tuesday.

"With that tragedy comes opportunity," Sen. Chip Rogers, R-Woodstock, told reporters one day after the suspended Atlanta Falcons quarterback was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring run out of a farm he owned in Virginia.

"We want to take this opportunity and use that to our benefit."

Rogers has been pushing legislation for several years that would criminalize virtually every activity related to dogfighting, including training, selling or transporting dogs for purposes of fighting, hosting a dogfighting event or knowingly attending one.

Under current Georgia law, authorities have to catch dogfighting operators in the act to make a case.

Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, who has a standing offer of $10,000 out of his own pocket for information leading to dogfighting arrests and convictions, said the weakness of the law forced prosecutors recently to drop charges against three suspects in a Snellville case.

"It's beyond belief that they weren't involved in dogfighting," Conway said. "But under the current law, we couldn't prosecute them."

Rogers' bill passed the Senate unanimously this year but didn't get out of the House committee with jurisdiction over criminal law.

The House panel did approve similar legislation sponsored by Rep. Bobby Reese, R-Sugar Hill. But Reese's bill didn't make it to the floor for a vote.

Past efforts to pass dogfighting legislation have been hampered by fears that it would be aimed at hunters.

"This is a law enforcement bill," Rogers said. "Nowhere in this process do we do anything to interfere with hunting."

Rogers also made sure to limit his bill to dog-on-dog combat. Previous versions of the legislation included cockfighting, prompting opposition from Georgians who raise roosters for cockfighting in the few states where it is legal.

Rep. Robert Mumford, R-Conyers, the House committee's vice chairman, predicted that the panel will move a dogfighting bill to the full House early in this winter's session.

He noted that polls have shown strong public support for the legislature to act.

"I think the Vick situation has really brought the issue to a much wider spectrum of people," Mumford said. "Everybody wants heavier penalties for dogfighting."

As for Vick, Rogers said he believes the former No. 1 draft pick is truly sorry for his actions and deserves a second chance after he completes his prison sentence.

"I hope there's a day we'll see Michael Vick on the football field again," Rogers said. "He can become a spokesman on this issue."

By Melissa Wilson

Staff Writer

melissa.wilson@gwinnettdailypost.com

LAWRENCEVILLE - Charges have been dismissed against three of four men accused of running a dogfighting ring at a home near Snellville.

District Attorney Danny Porter said prosecutors did not have sufficient evidence to continue with the charges against Mauricio Montoya, 28; Jose Hernandez-Chable, 37; and Luis Reyes Esquival, 30.

"The only thing we had was that they lived in the house," Porter said. "We could not show they had any participation."

Porter said Georgia law states there must be sufficient evidence the party participated in the act to continue with dogfighting charges.

Montoya, Hernandez-Chable and Esquival, were arrested Sept. 7 at the home on Southampton Way where authorities believed the fighting took place.

Arrests were made and charges were filed after the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Department received a tip that possible dogfighting and training was taking place at the home.

Efren Reyes, 33, was also arrested and charged with criminal attempt to commit dogfighting.

Authorities found seven dogs and three puppies restrained in the backyard of the home and unearthed the skeletal remains of three others.

During a Sept. 21 hearing, attorneys for Montoya, Hernandez-Chable and Esquival argued the men only lived at the suspected home while they worked construction for Reyes' brother.

Though the charges were dropped, Hernandez-Chable, Esquival and Montoya remained in jail Tuesday with a hold from Immigration and Customs Enforcement. An investigation into the men's status in the United States is under way and the trio could be deported, according to ICE authorities.

Charges remain against Reyes, who bonded out of jail Sept. 21, according to jail records. The 33-year-old was indicted last week on the dogfighting charges.

Porter said an arraignment hearing for Reyes is forthcoming.