Her kidneys failing, veterinarians euthanized the extensively… (Photo provided )
Baltimore City courts closed Thursday because of the overnight snowstorm, postponing the start of the trial for two teenagers accused of setting a pit bull puppy on fire. Opening statements had been scheduled to begin Thursday afternoon.
A jury of seven women and five men, plus three alternate jurors, was chosen from among 90 potential jurors in a process that took almost all day Wednesday.
The biggest issue for jurors will not be whether the puppy, which had to be euthanized, was severely burned. They will have to decide whether either Travers or Tremayne Johnson, or both, doused the dog with gasoline and set her ablaze in May 2009. Prosecutors hope to use tattoos on at least one of the youths' hands to link the teens to a vacant house where they allege dogs were kept, and defense attorneys are seeking to block that evidence.
"It's a circumstantial case," Assistant State's Attorney Janet Hankin told Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill on Wednesday. Another judge earlier imposed a gag order, preventing both sides from publicly discussing the case.
With 95 percent of her body burned, the dog, nicknamed Phoenix by shelter workers, survived a few days before being euthanized. The 18-year-olds are charged with animal cruelty.
Initial reports of the harmed puppy elicited outrage — especially within the animal welfare community — and made a hero of a city officer who smothered the flames with her sweater. The incident also led to a reward fund that topped $25,000 and to the creation of an Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force to study Baltimore's response to such incidents. The task force released a report last year that found Baltimore's approach flawed, with episodes too often ignored or poorly handled. A commission has since been created.
Potential jurors were quizzed Wednesday whether they'd heard about the highly publicized case — 31 said they had — whether they had such "strong feelings about the nature" of the charges that they doubted they could fairly decide it, and whether they were affiliated with the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, which initially cared for the puppy, or other animal welfare organizations.
Members of some of those groups are expected to attend the trial, which is likely to continue through the middle of next week.
"I had remembered the story from 2009, vaguely. I remembered the photos of the dog, and I was interested in doing my duty," Mark Bachteler, 41, a potential juror and business consultant who lives in Harbor East, said outside the courtroom after he was dismissed.
He said he was prepared to hear testimony and see evidence that might be gruesome. "I was disappointed not to be picked. I thought I would be a very good, unbiased juror," he said.
Also disappointed that he was not seated on the jury was Ankit Aggarwal, 28, of Fells Point, who works in marketing support for a finance firm. After he was dismissed, he said he had not heard about the case and had hoped to be a juror.
"Based on what they said, I'd be interested in reading more about it. It's a terrible allegation," he said. "I was kind of looking forward to it."
Before the day ended, one of the alternates was dismissed. After the panel was sent home for the day, she returned to the nearly vacant courtroom in tears. After a short conference with Judge Lawrence P. Fletcher-Hill and the attorneys, she was excused.