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Top court confirms conviction, 6 years after hearing

It took more than six years, but Maryland’s top court on Thursday upheld Tony Lamont Haile’s animal-cruelty conviction for injuring a police dog sent to subdue him.

The Court of Appeals, which heard Haile’s appeal on April 9, 2007, rejected his argument that he acted in self defense and that Maryland prosecutors failed to prove he intended to hurt Bernie, the police dog, who sustained a half-inch wide cut above its right eye.

Police had first warned Haile, a suspect in a stabbing, that the dog would be sent after him unless he surrendered, the court noted. In addition, the court held that the state animal-cruelty statute — Section 10-606 of the Criminal Law Article — does not require that the defendant specifically intend to inflict injury.

“The undisputed facts show that [Haile] intentionally and repeatedly struck Bernie, who was performing its duty in accordance with police procedure, on its head, causing it bodily harm,” Chief Judge Robert M. Bell wrote for the high court. “There is absolutely no contention that Bernie, or its owner, for that matter, was acting illegally.”

Haile received a three-year sentence for cruelty to Bernie in addition to a 20-year term for assault in the stabbing case.

It was the first time an appellate court in Maryland had determined whether animal cruelty laws apply when a suspect attacks a police dog, said Brian Kleinbord, who heads the attorney general’s criminal appeals office.

The opinion provides “guidance on a novel issue,” Kleinbord said.

‘Interest of justice’

The high court’s decision marked its second ruling this month in a criminal appeal that had been waiting at least five years for a ruling after it was argued before the judges. On April 3, the court overturned the double-murder conviction of Jaron Tyree Grade, five and a half years after it heard arguments.

The court’s opinion in Grade’s case also was authored by the chief judge.

In March, the Maryland Office of the Public Defender filed motions in Grade’s and Haile’s cases urging the court to issue — “in the interest of justice” — either an opinion, an order deciding the case with an opinion to follow, or, if a reversal were likely, an order that the defendant be relieved of the prison sentence, pending the outcome of the appeal.

“Excessive delay in the appellate process can also violate the constitutional guarantees of due process of law,” the motions read.

In a third, still-pending appeal, Kevin C. Alston has waited nearly seven years — since May 3, 2006 — for the high court to decide whether his five-year sentence for gun possession by a felon was illegal because it denied him the possibility of parole. His case, however, is essentially moot because he has already served the five years.

The three cases were featured in reports by The Daily Record, published in September 2011 and August 2012, on the amount of time it takes the Court of Appeals to decide cases after hearing argument.

Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe did not return telephone messages Thursday seeking comment on the long-awaited decisions and his decision to urge the court to act.

Bell, the chief judge, also did not return telephone messages seeking comment on the lengthy delays in the court’s decisions in the three cases.

David Paulson, a spokesman for the Office of the Maryland Attorney General, reiterated the statement he made after Grade was decided: that “we continue to be concerned about these delays, which often have consequences for both sides.” Delays, for example, can make it difficult for prosecutors to re-locate witnesses if a new trial is ordered, he said.

Ineffective-assistance claim

In Haile’s case, though, no new trial will be needed.

Haile’s interaction with Bernie arose in July 2004 after 15-year-old Daniel Sims told Baltimore County police that Haile had stabbed him in the back with a five-inch knife, according to the high court’s opinion.

Officer Timothy Bowman went to investigate and spotted Haile, then 17, fleeing from his aunt’s home.

Bowman called for backup. K-9 officer Christopher Davies arrived with Bernie and found Haile hiding in a neighbor’s backyard. Davies ordered Haile to come out with his hands up or the dog would be released.

When Haile failed to comply, Bernie pursued him and bit down on his upper left arm to restrain him.

Haile struck Bernie repeatedly in the head, opening a wound that caused the dog to let go.

Haile then ran and scaled a fence, but was caught by officers on the other side, the opinion stated.

In March 2005, a Baltimore County Circuit Court jury convicted Haile of first-degree assault for the stabbing and aggravated animal cruelty for striking and injuring a police dog sent to stop him. Judge Thomas J. Bollinger Sr. sentenced Haile to consecutive terms for the assault and the animal cruelty.

After the state had presented its case on cruelty, Haile’s trial attorney moved for a judgment of acquittal on the cruelty charge, saying the evidence was insufficient to show the defendant intended to hurt the animal when he acted in self-defense. The lawyer, however, did not renew the motion at the close of the defense case.

Haile argued on appeal that his conviction should be overturned due to insufficient evidence and ineffective assistance of counsel for having failed to renew the motion. The intermediate Court of Special Appeals rejected the insufficiency of the evidence argument, which rendered moot the ineffective assistance of counsel argument.

The Court of Appeals agreed.

Bell was joined in his opinion by Judges Glenn T. Harrell Jr., Lynne A. Battaglia, Clayton Greene Jr., Dale R. Cathell and Alan M. Wilner. Judge Irma S. Raker joined only in the court’s judgment.

Since the case was argued, Raker and Cathell retired from the court, having reached the mandatory retirement age of 70, but were allowed to participate in the final decision.

Wilner was already retired when the case was argued and participated in the case by special assignment.

Assistant Public Defender Amy Brennan argued Haile’s appeal. Diane E. Keller, the assistant Maryland attorney general who argued for the state, has since retired from the practice of law, according to the Maryland attorney general’s office.

BELL

WHAT THE COURT HELD

Case:

Tony Lamont Haile v. Maryland, No. 112 Sept. Term 2006. Reported. Opinion by Bell, C.J. Argued April 9, 2007. Filed April 25, 2013.

Issue:

Was the evidence sufficient to convict defendant of aggravated animal cruelty when he acted in self defense and without specific intent to injure?

Holding:

Yes; the argument of self defense is unavailable when a police dog and his handler acted lawfully, and specific intent to injure is not an element of the crime.

Counsel:

Amy Brennan for petitioner; Diane E. Keller for respondent

RecordFax #13-0425-22 (28 pages).