Dogfighting leader gets lengthy term Two sentences to run separately

December 14, 1996|By Elaine Tassy | Elaine Tassy,SUN STAFF

Convicted dogfighting leader Leonardo W. Graham lost a gamble yesterday -- one that means he will spend nearly twice as long behind bars.

The 29-year-old Essex man was convicted in Baltimore County District Court in April of running pit bull fights in the basement of his home. He appealed his case, trying to have his three-year sentence run at the same time as a five-year sentence he received this year for drug distribution.

But County Circuit Judge Barbara Kerr Howe would not merge the sentences -- and essentially added seven years.

"It was quite unexpected," said Grace L. Calabrese, veterinarian for the county animal control department and a witness in the appeal.

Graham of the 1500 block of Old Eastern Ave. seemed stunned into silence upon learning of the new terms of his sentence.

But Assistant State's Attorney Mark E. Wolfe, who prosecuted the case, was delighted. "I just think it was a very fair sentence, I really do, because I do believe he was fighting pit bulls. These are egregious crimes."

In June 1995, police raided Graham's home and seized 14 pounds of marijuana, a pound of cocaine, firearms and a stolen 1994 Toyota 4-Runner. To their surprise, they also found 43 pit bulls, dogs known for fierceness. Many of the dogs showed signs of mistreatment.

The dogs were seized and destroyed.

On April 23, District Judge Robert N. Dugan found Graham guilty of fighting the pit bulls and imposed a three-year sentence. Graham appealed to Circuit Court.

During a two-day trial, Calabrese testified that scars on the dogs were from fighting. And county animal control officers testified that the dogs were kept chained, underfed and exposed to their own waste.

A cordoned-off area in Graham's basement -- apparently for dogfights -- was smeared with blood, according to testimony.

David P. Henninger, who represented Graham, also called an expert witness who wrote several books on pit bulls, to testify that the dogs had not been treated cruelly.

In imposing sentence yesterday, Howe set aside the three-year sentence Graham received from Dugan. She sentenced him to three years for each of three counts of dogfighting, and 90 days for each of five counts of improper care of animals -- a total of 10 years and three months, to run separately from the five-year drug sentence.

Pub Date: 12/14/96

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