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Jurors Reject Police Testimony That 2 Teen-Agers Set Dog Afire : Courts: One is convicted of hitting Rottweiler in a case that rallied activists. Key audiotape seemed to contradict officer.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

For more than a year, animal rights activists had steeled themselves for the trial.

It would not be pretty, they were convinced. Not when jurors were told full details of how police observed a whimpering dog beaten by club-wielding Los Angeles teen-agers and doused with charcoal lighter fluid turn into a living fireball in front of officers’ eyes.

Horrified by the description of the torture of a Rottweiler mix named Zig-Zag, activists from a dozen Southland animal rights organizations helped persuade authorities to try two boys arrested during the incident as adults.

Hoping to use the case to spotlight what they say is a growing animal-abuse problem, they appealed to activist groups nationwide to pressure Los Angeles officials to mount a vigorous no-holds-barred prosecution of the pair. Hundreds did.

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But as the felony case unfolded in Los Angeles Superior Court this past week, the most stunning revelation for animal lovers filling the front seats of the courtroom was that the police may not have seen anything.

Instead of becoming a national rallying point, the fiery death of Zig-Zag dissolved into a routine dog-beating case Wednesday as jurors found 17-year-old Roshawn Douglas guilty of striking the dog with a stick. But they were unable to reach a verdict on the second teen-ager. Jurors told Judge L. Jeffrey Wiatt that they were leaning 11 to 1 to acquit Inaniel Lisbey, also 17.

Prosecutors were uncertain late Wednesday whether they would pursue the case against Lisbey. Animal lovers and defense lawyers predicted that it will be dropped.

It was a bitter blow to animal activists such as Dorothy Davis, a retired Westside entertainment attorney now living in Mission Viejo who helped organize the nationwide effort to convict those accused of killing Zig-Zag.

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“I’m disappointed in the way this was handled,” Davis said. “I supposed I’d come back if they decided to retry it. But they won’t.”

Davis and other animal lovers said their campaign was based on descriptions of Zig-Zag’s Aug. 31, 1994, death contained in investigative reports. Those documents outlined a chilling account of torture by teen-agers armed with steel pipes and two-by-fours who beat the Rottweiler and then set him afire.

In court, Los Angeles Police Officer Richard Joaquin testified how he observed the dog as “a fireball” running near the intersection of 65th Place and Harvard Boulevard with three teen-agers chasing it.

Lisbey and Douglas were two of the teen-agers, Joaquin said. A 15-year-old later convicted in Compton Juvenile Court of throwing rocks at the dog was the third boy; Joaquin said he arrested all three.

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The case began unraveling after a 65th Place resident testified that she called police about the dog abuse and saw officers arrive. But Yvette Mansion-Ina told jurors she did not see the dog on fire.

The worse was yet to come, however. After that, prosecutor Pamela Gonzales attempted to play a tape-recording of Mansion-Ina’s 911 call but instead accidentally played a recording of a police follow-up call to the woman.

That tape revealed a dispatcher urging Mansion-Ina to go outside and identify the suspects to officers.

“They have possible suspects,” the dispatcher is heard saying of officers at the scene. “But the thing is, they didn’t see who did it.”

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Police dispatcher Lawrence Cardinas testified the next day that he had “just assumed” that police hadn’t seen the crime committed at the time he spoke with Mansion-Ida. But the damage apparently was done.


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