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A North Carolina man is now a convicted felon due to an attempt to sell five American Pit Bull Terriers in Bedford County. But he won’t serve any jail time as a result of that conviction.
Earlier this year, William Travis Williams pleaded guilty to bringing the dogs to Bedford County to sell them for the purpose of animal fighting. The buyer turned out to be an informant for the Bedford County Sheriff’s Office. Adjudication had been postponed until Williams’ sentencing hearing which took place before Judge James Updike Tuesday in Bedford County Circuit Court.
Williams’ defense attorney, Jeff Hubbard, brought in character witnesses. Williams’ father, William Arthur Williams, testified that his son coaches youth sports and hunts. Williams' father said that he has been around dogs all his life and has bred dogs since he was 16. His son did the same.
According to the elder Williams, their dogs had been bred for catch and release events that involved bears and wild boars. These events were legal in South Carolina until they were outlawed last year.
Both father and son described the events involving boars. Two dogs would take on the boar. One dog, usually a male because this required a larger dog, would grab the boar by an ear or the snout. A second dog, usually a female, would come in behind and grab it by a back leg. Once the boar was stretched out on the ground, the dogs’ handler would come in and tie up at least three of the boar’s legs. The boar would have to remain immobile for at least one minute after this was done. The events were timed.
The elder Williams said that his son had money problems last year.
“He desperately needed the money,” Cynthia Williams, Travis Williams’ stepmother added in testimony when she was called to the stand. Her son goes by his middle name.
The name of one particular dog, a male named “Rowdy,” came up during testimony at Tuesday’s hearing.
“When I went through my hard times, that’s the dog I knew I could sell quickest,” Travis Williams testified.
According to Travis Williams, his hard times were due to a divorce and subsequent battle for joint custody of his son. During this time, he lost his house, something that he said he was trying to prevent.
“I was losing everything,” he said.
Travis Williams said that, when he decided to sell his dogs, he didn’t advertise this. He said he used word of mouth, talking to friends. He said that a man, who turned out to be an informant, contacted him by phone.
“He called me numerous times,” Williams said.
According to Williams, the informant asked him to bring the dogs to Bedford County. Williams said that he was initially reluctant to do this because of his work schedule, even though the informant offered to pay for his gas, food, and put him up in a motel. Finally, his schedule made the trip possible and he agreed.
“Six thousand, five hundred dollars is a lot of money for a day’s trip,” he said.
Williams said he did not expect the dogs to be used to fight other dogs. He said that any references to fighting in recorded phone conversations refer to the type of animal fighting events that he and his father had described.
“I did not intend for them him to use them against each other or other dogs,” Williams testified.
Williams said that he did not know that the live bear and hog events had been outlawed in South Carolina.
“I don’t know why this is going on in the first place,” Hubbard said, questioning whether his client should have even been charged with anything. Hubbard called attention to the fact that an informant sought Williams out.
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Mark Robinette asked for active prison time, but Hubbard disagreed.
“I don’t believe this case warrants an active jail sentence,” Hubbard replied.
Hubbard said that Williams attempted to sell the animals, under duress, to somebody who sought him out.
“I believe he is an ideal candidate for supervised probation or community service,” Hubbard said.
Judge Updike said it is important for a judge to punish the crime that was actually committed. In this case, the law that Williams pleaded guilty to breaking is an animal fighting statute. It does not specify dogs. It becomes a felony when animals are transported and sold to fight another animal.
“Neither of the animals has to be a dog,” Judge Updike said.
Judge Updike went on to say that he was convinced that Williams engaged in animal fighting and that his dogs were bred for this purpose.
“You had the intent that these animals would engage in fighting these hogs,” Judge Updike said, stating that was an act of selling animals to fight. The sentence would have been different if this had been dog fighting, Judge Updike added, noting that Williams’ dogs didn’t fight a hog in Bedford County, either.
“An active sentence will not be imposed,” Judge Updike said.
Judge Updike imposed a three-year suspended sentence and three years of supervised probation plus 100 hours of community service and a $1,000 fine. He also pointed out that the statute that Williams pleaded guilty to violating prohibits him from owning a companion animal. Williams still has a coon dog.