MONTGOMERY, Alabama (AP) — As a federal judge began handing down sentences Monday for high-stakes dog fights in Alabama, three people received punishments ranging from one to five years in prison.
Six other defendants from Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama who have pleaded guilty in the case are scheduled for sentencing throughout this week.
U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins ordered a five-year sentence for Michael Martin of Auburn. He pleaded guilty to conspiracy and being a felon in possession of firearms.
The judge imposed a three-year sentence on Irkis Forrest of Theodore, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy, and a sentence of one year and one day on William Antone Edwards of Brantley, who pleaded guilty to conspiracy. The judge prohibited all three from possessing dogs for three years after they get out of prison.
The three sentenced Monday had pleaded guilty in April to participating in high-stakes dog fights or providing dogs for the fights held primarily in east Alabama. Prosecutors said Edwards lost $280,000 to another dog fighter and had bets of $60,000 and $70,000 on other fights. Prosecutor Clark Morris said Edwards had that kind of money because he was considered a top dog trainer and others paid him to train their dogs for fights.
Edwards told the judge that he had raised fighting dogs for many years and never realized it was a prison offense.
“I knew what I was doing was wrong,” he said. “I just didn’t realize it was this wrong.”
The judge told him, “The word needs to be out that this is a serious offense and you will do real time.”
In giving Edwards the lightest of the three sentences, the judge noted that Edwards suffers from a traumatic brain injury from a 2011 car wreck.
While announcing the sentences, the judge complained that the federal sentencing guidelines for dog fighting are not rational because they provide the same standard for someone who furnished one dog for fights and someone who furnished 100 dogs for fights.
Investigators seized more than 400 pit bulls from people arrested in the four-year investigation. Some of the dogs were so ill they died or had to be euthanized. Some have been adopted and others are being kept in shelters. Animal rights groups say it was the second largest seizure of pit bulls in U.S. history.