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Wednesday, June 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Lengthy Sentence OK’d for Dog-Fighting Kingpin

(CN) - A North Carolina man whom federal prosecutors described as a "legend" in the dog-fighting community must serve five years in prison, though probation officers recommended about a year, the 4th Circuit ruled.

By his own admission, Harry Louis Hargrove, of Duplin County, N.C., has been involved in dog-fighting activities for over four decades, according to the ruling.

At one time, Hargrove had approximately 250 fighting dogs on his property.

The government said Hargrove was highly regarded in the dog-fighting world for his breeding activities, training regimen and ability to produce particularly aggressive fighting dogs.

Hargrove also advertised his dogs in various publications related to dog fighting, and others across the country paid hefty sums for the offspring of his dog Midnight Cowboy, which had been renowned for its aggressive nature and propensity for fighting.

Hargrove's prior criminal history includes a 1983 Georgia felony conviction, a 1993 North Carolina animal fighting misdemeanor conviction, and a 2001 North Carolina animal cruelty misdemeanor conviction.

The current case stemmed from Hargrove's sale of an American pit bull terrier to an undercover informant, a deal he closed by demonstrating the dog's prowess by having it fight another dog.

After executing a search warrant, authorities seized 34 additional dogs from Hargrove's property. Each was subsequently euthanized because of poor health, aggressive tendencies, or both.

"Additionally, the officers found multiple tools and indicia of the dog-fighting trade throughout Hargrove's property, including: a fighting pit that was covered in a significant amount of blood; 'Break sticks' which are used to break the bite hold of a dog during a fight; modified jumper cables that were used to electrocute dogs; a large debris pit that contained, among other things, dog carcasses; a blood-covered treadmill with wooden sides; a spring-pole, which is used to build up a dog's leg and jaw muscles; an old 'jenny,' which is used to increase a dog's stamina by having the dog run continuously for extended periods of time while chasing a bait; large quantities of animal medicines; and hundreds of canine pedigrees," according to the 4th Circuit opinion authored by Judge Dennis Wayne Shedd.

After Hargrove pleaded guilty to violating the Animal Welfare Act, a probation officer advised incarceration of 10 to 16 months. Hargrove's attorney countered with a demand for six months, noting that military service in Vietnam left Hargrove highly decorated but also "changed."

The government meanwhile pressed for the lengthiest sentence possible, citing extraordinary cruelty to animals, extreme conduct and prior history of dog fighting.

After deciding to increase the offense-level calculation based on Hargrove's role in the offense and the vulnerability of his victims, U.S. District Judge Terrence Boyle ordered the toughest sentence possible: 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release.

Shedd and her colleagues with the Richmond, Va.-based federal appeals court affirmed last week.

Though the sentence departed significantly from that initially recommended by probation officers, this variance "does not alone render it presumptively unreasonable," according to the 14-page ruling.

"In addition, the District Court considered Hargrove's history and characteristics," Shedd added. "While acknowledging that Hargrove was a military veteran who had provided heroic service to his country, the court noted that he chose to 'discard all of that for this life of brutality and life of cruelty.' The court observed that Hargrove's involvement in dog-fighting became 'the most prominent, distinguishing characteristic of his life.'"

"Additionally, the court noted that Hargrove planned his extensive involvement in this criminal activity, and it expressed concern about the danger that his conduct presented to others, stating that he was 'introducing into the society ... animals who have been so deranged that they become a threat, a danger to humanity," Shedd added.

Based on all this, the 60-month sentence was both reasonable and "necessary to accomplish the objectives of sentencing," the appeals court found.

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