|Small town, big case: Michael Vick and the dogs|
|Written by Admin|
|Monday, 04 June 2007 08:58|
``It's a caution light,'' Surry County court clerk Gail Clayton explains.
These days, it's a spot featuring plenty of action.
Not far away, next to a gas station on the corner, the unmarked office of Surry County Commonwealth's Attorney Gerald G. Poindexter stands in need of a coat of paint.
It also needs a bigger parking lot out front, because the veteran prosecutor is in the middle of a case that has drawn media from all over to follow the highest-profile case of Poindexter's 12-year career.
ied in the ground.
The chains allowed the dogs to get close to each other, but not to have contact, one of myriad findings on the property that suggested a dogfighting operation.
Others included a rape stand, used to hold non-receptive dogs in place for mating; an electric treadmill modified to be used by dogs; a ``pry bar'' used to open the clamped-down mouths of dogs; and a bloodied piece of carpeting the authorities believe was used in dog fights. Carpeting gives dogs traction in a plywood fighting pit.
A convoy of vehicles seized the evidence, and the dogs, on April 26. Poindexter, a part-time prosecutor whose typical cases involve bad checks or petty theft, said he was at home when he learned about the discoveries at the Vick house.
Vick, a registered dog breeder, has refused to comment directly about the case, saying his attorney ``has advised me not to talk about the situation right now.'' Vick has claimed since the investigation started that he rarely visits the home, and he has blamed family members and others for taking advantage of his generosity.
In a county that Poindexter proudly boasts hasn't had a felony murder case in 40 years, the pace of the case has been deliberate. He hasn't allowed himself to be rushed, even as animal rights groups such as the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have pressured him to take action.
``I'm not driven by news deadlines,'' Poindexter said in a recent interview in his office. ``If people on that property committed a crime, and I believe they did, it will be a crime tomorrow, it will be a crime in six months, it was a crime yesterday.''
He's being extra careful because, in 2000, another local drug investigation turned into a dogfighting case when 33 pit bulls were found on a property. The case eventually was thrown out, though, because of an illegal search.
Poindexter's desire not to repeat that mistake has delayed the execution of a subsequent search warrant, one secured after an informant told an investigator that as many as 30 dogs were buried on the 15-acre property, including seven allegedly buried two days before the raid. Poindexter said he sees no reason to rush back onto the property when animal forensic experts have assured him he already has a wealth of evidence.
After several weeks, Poindexter says he had no solid evidence placing Vick at a dog fight. There have been several accusations, such as one from an inmate in South Carolina who claimed he was at a dog fight and saw Vick bet large sums - Poindexter turned that information over to the sheriff's office, cognizant that inmates and people who admit involvement in dogfighting might not make credible witnesses.
Sheriff Harold D. Brown has not returned repeated phone calls seeking comment about the investigation.
On Moonlight Road, where Vick's home with the fenced yard and electronically controlled metal gate dwarfs the others, the parking lot at Ferguson Grove Baptist Church directly across the street has been a popular spot for reporters. Most of the people they question in this county of about 7,000 say they have not seen anything.
Vick's next-door neighbor, Earnest Hardy, has a backyard that abuts the spot on Vick's land where the kennel and outbuildings are located. Hardy doesn't believe there was dogfighting going on next door.
``The leaves just come on the trees, man,'' he said. ``I can sit in my house, I hear them when they start the 4-wheelers up. I hear my dog bark. I hear his dog bark. I hear everything. If that stuff is happening, there ought to be some noise somewhere.''
Hardy said Vick has owned the land for six years, and put the kennels up in the back long before the two-story house was built. At first, a mobile home sat where the house and a full basketball court are now.
In six years, Hardy said, he's encountered Vick three times.
Investigators have gone on the road pursuing a half-dozen leads from people claiming they have information in the case, and Poindexter has been barraged with phone calls from media and old friends who have seen his name in newspapers.
``It's been good for renewing old acquaintances,'' he said with a laugh.
But Poindexter also bristles at coverage the case has attracted, and the way he said his words have been twisted and his reputation challenged by outlandish rumors.
When Vick reportedly sold the massive house with an estimated value of more than $700,000 for half that, a reporter asked Poindexter if it was true that he was the buyer.
He was quoted as saying Vick is a nice guy, even though he says he told that reporter he'd never met Vick. And Poindexter had to shoot down a report that he was handing the investigation over to Virginia's attorney general.
``This is my job. This is what I was elected to do,'' he said. ``I have no doubt that I can handle this in a courtroom. I just have to make sure it gets to a courtroom.''