Men charged in 4-state dog-fighting case plead not guilty in Alabama hearing

A dozen men indicted in a multi-state dog-fighting investigation entered not guilty pleas at their arraignment Wednesday in Alabama.

All 12 men are charged with conspiring to sponsor dog fights or training animals for fights. Eleven face gambling charges.

Investigators seized 367 pit bulls Friday in raids in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. The dogs are now being cared for by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States at undisclosed locations. Morris said the two groups are doing evaluations of each dog and that will be used an evidence in the case.

A magistrate judge set a Feb. 10 trial date for the men, who are from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas.

During the hearing, federal prosecutor Clark Morris revealed that evidence in the three-year investigation includes wire taps from Alabama and Georgia.

Eight of the defendants are free on bond, while four are being held in the Montgomery jail pending another court hearing. As a condition of their release, U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Coody ordered that they assist authorities in the humane removal of all dogs remaining on their property.

Several defense attorneys declined comment, saying they had just met their clients and had not yet seen the prosecution's evidence.

Charged are Donnie Anderson of Auburn; Demontt Allen of Houston, Texas; William Antone Edwards of Brantley; William Oneil Edwards of Elba; Robin Stinson of Elba; Michael Martin of Auburn; Lawrence Watford of Adel, Ga.; Ricky Van Le of Biloxi, Miss.; David Sellers of Opelika; Sandy Brown of Brownsville, Irkis Forrest of Theodore; and Carton Tippens of Riverdale, Ga.

If convicted, they could get up to five years in prison on each of the dog fighting and gambling charges.

While the case moves along in federal court, the ASPCA and HUSA are trying to create new lives for the dogs.

Daisy Balawejder, dog-fighting recuse coalition coordinator for the Humane Society, said her organization is caring for 115 of the dogs, which now have individual kennels and plenty of food and medical care. "Many of the dogs we saw were underweight, she said in an interview.

The dogs will be held for evidence while the case is pending. During that period, they will undergo behavioral enrichment and rehabilitation. Eventually, the goal is to place them with shelters and organizations for adoption. She said they have an excellent success rate in retraining pit bulls.

"These animals have never had the opportunity to live in our world. Once they are given the option, they don't want to fight," she said.