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While jury deliberates, a plea deal worked out

A 65-year-old Halifax man pleaded guilty Friday in Halifax County Circuit Court to five misdemeanor animal cruelty charges, following a day-long jury trial and during the jury’s final deliberations.

William Gilbert Ragsdale, through his attorney, Paul Valois, pleaded guilty to the five misdemeanors.

The prosecution, represented by Virginia Assistant Attorney General Michelle Welch and Virginia Special Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Myers, agreed to nol pros a felony charge against Ragsdale for animal cruelty resulting in the death of an animal in return for Ragsdale’s guilty pleas.

Presiding Judge Leslie M. Osborn, on a motion by Valois, struck two other felony charges against Ragsdale at the end of defense
arguments for authorizing a third party to possess paraphernalia for dog fighting.

Osborn sentenced Ragsdale to six-month suspended jail sentences for each of the five misdemeanors and to a $250 fine for each charge, with all suspended, conditioned on Ragsdale’s good behavior for two years.

The court ordered Ragsdale to pay court costs within two years, and it ordered the defendant to allow Moser onto his property on a regular basis to monitor the condition of the animals he now owns, including four hogs, 12 chickens and nine hunting dogs.

The defendant will not be allowed to acquire any additional animals, according to the plea agreement.

The charges against Ragsdale resulted from a dog license check and subsequent search warrant served at a house on Paul Pry Trail off Chatham Road by Halifax County Chief Animal Control Warden Todd Moser and an associate in early March 2010.

Moser testified he saw six pit bulls to the left of the residence when he initially arrived at the scene, one he later found to be deceased, and he spoke with someone at the house in regard to who owned the dogs.

He returned later that day and spoke to William Ragsdale and his wife.

Moser testified in his initial conversation with the Ragsdales, he was told the defendant’s wife leased the house, and William Ragsdale was the caretaker of the dogs.

When asked by Moser if he had noticed the deceased pit bull, the defendant said the dog had been sick for a couple of weeks and that he told his son to take it to the veterinarian, the chief warden testified.

A search warrant was served the next day, and authorities seized all six dogs, sending the deceased pit bull away for a necropsy.

A search of the property revealed most of the dogs were burdened with weighted collars and heavy chains, according to Moser.

Officials found bones in a 55-gallon barrel Moser believed to be the bones of a dog, along with a pair of syringes, collars, antibiotic cream and a pair of jugs he believed to have contained iodine.

Animal Warden Andrew Jones, upon entering the house found a pet carrier containing a magazine devoted to dog fighting among other paraphernalia related to dog fighting.

Welch and Myers presented evidence indicating the pit bulls found at the residence at Paul Pry Trail had been engaged in animal fighting and had otherwise been poorly treated.

Dr. Ed Bower, a Lynchburg veterinarian who performed the necropsy, testified the deceased dog had died of starvation and had not been properly fed in a bare minimum of three weeks.

“I would say the dog suffered,” Bower told the jury, while telling the court an examination of the bones found in the barrel confirmed they were those of a dog.

Dr. Rachel Touroo, director of Veterinary Forensics for the American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to animals, testified she examined the five remaining pit bulls at the Halifax County Animal Shelter.

Touroo agreed with Dr. Bower’s assessment that the deceased dog had died of starvation, and she told the court her findings indicated three of the remaining dogs had been poorly treated, and two had been cruelly treated, with both of them requiring emergency veterinary treatment.

Several dogs had inadequate shelter and several had scars on the head and legs consistent with dog fighting, she testified.

Richard Samuels, whom the court stipulated as an expert in dog fighting operations, testified the evidence uncovered at the Paul Pry Trail house indicated an intermediary-level dog fighting operation.

Valois asked whether equipment found at the house at Paul Pry Trail could be used for another sport involving pit bulls and other dogs, weight pulling.

Valois’ presented evidence that cast doubt as to who actually owned the pit bulls and who was actually in control of the property.

The defendant testified that he was not living at the house on Paul Pry Trail in early March 2010 but at a house on Mountain Road.

Ragsdale told the court he sometimes helped his estranged wife with rent for the house at Paul Pry Trail, but he denied ownership of the dogs and that he was at the house on a regular basis.

He also denied making any statement to Moser that he was the caretaker of the dogs, and he denied ever mistreating or being cruel to any dog.

The defendant, who told Valois he owns a number of rabbit dogs, hogs and chickens, testified he never saw any dog fighting on the property or anybody training any dogs at the property on Paul Pry Trail.

There was no evidence in a legal sense that the defendant was in charge and control of the house at Paul Pry Trail and no evidence the defendant even had a key to the house, Osborn said while striking the two felony charges.

Ragsdale may have stayed there, or he may have not stayed there, Osborn noted.