William Whitson, 47-years-old, of Fall River, has been in custody since his arrest on September 10, 2015, for animal cruelty when he stabbed Smokey, a pit bull, outside a South Main Street barbershop in 2015. On Thursday, Whitson was convicted and found guilty of animal cruelty.
The Herald News reported that the jury deliberated for three hours before returning a guilty verdict.
First Assistant District Attorney Karen O’Sullivan was satisfied with the jury’s decision.
“This was a brutal attack on an innocent dog. We’re glad the jury listened to all the evidence and came back with a verdict that is fair and just.”
The jury heard from Whitson that it was self-defense when he stabbed the dog five times and that the pit bull bit his hand and refused to let go. William Whitson was charged by Fall River police with cruelty to an animal, disturbing the peace while armed, and assault with a dangerous weapon.
Whitson’s defense attorney, Donald Brisson, said used his closing argument to appeal to the jury’s empathy.
“You can imagine what’s going through Will’s mind at that time. He has a pit bull latched onto his hand, and he can’t break free.”
Prosecutors disagreed, saying the evidence suggested that Whitson ran up to Smokey, put the dog in a headlock, then viciously stabbed him.
Assistant district attorney Patrick Driscoll said that “this man wasn’t in reasonable fear of that dog,” also noting that after Whitson was taken to the emergency room at Saint Anne’s Hospital for treatment, he said: “I’m glad I killed that [expletive] dog.”
Fortunately, Smokey the pit bull survived the attack, but he did suffer five deep stab wounds to his neck, chest, and shoulder. He lost more than a liter of blood and one stab wound penetrated his chest cavity, causing his right lung to partially collapse. Smokey underwent emergency surgery and spent seven days at Mass-RI Veterinary ER in Swansea.
Heather Lemieux, the pit bull’s former owner, was walking Smoky on South Main Street at around 7:30 p.m. on September 10, 2015, when a woman walking an 18-pound Cocker Spaniel/Maltese mix told her not to get too close to them.
A confrontation ensued, and the smaller dog’s owner testified that the pit bull viciously attacked her dog. Another witness testified that the small dog ran around the pit bull, but that there was no vicious attack. Both witnesses said the dogs were separated before Whitson getting involved.
Defense attorney Donald Brisson said Whitson ran outside his barbershop and tried to break up the fight. That’s when Smokey bit his right hand and refused to let go. According to Brisson, Whitson grabbed his pocketknife and stabbed the pit bull. Brisson said Whitson only had a couple of seconds to decide how to get the pit bull to release his hand.
The jury also witnessed videos recorded just a week before the incident showing an intoxicated Lemieux using foul language outside Whitson’s barbershop, trying to goad him into getting his dog to fight Smokey. According to Whitson, Lemieux often brought her dog to his shop to antagonize him.
Fall River, MA: William Whitson, 47, convicted in animal cruelty case, out on probationhttps://t.co/Eo1ru7qJpc
— PitOwner (@PitOwnr) June 14, 2017
Driscoll conceded that Lemieux’s behavior was “disgusting and reprehensible,” but emphasized to the jury that she was not on trial.
“This case is not about Heather Lemieux. The case is about what this man did to that dog.”
Challenging Whitson’s version of the events, Driscoll told the jury that the cut on Wilson’s right hand was probably caused by his own knife. He also pointed out that the small dog had only a small scratch behind one ear – despite having supposedly been viciously attacked by Smokey.
Driscoll said that, rather than assisting the small dog’s owner, Whitson took advantage of the situation to get revenge at Lemieux. He also said it was disgusting that Whitson walked away after stabbing Smokey to the point of near death.
“We’re supposed to give him a pat on the back for walking after that?”
Superior Court Judge Raymond Veary scheduled Driscoll’s sentencing for next week. Meanwhile, a probation officer handed the judge a copy of Whitson’s lengthy criminal record, which included a conviction for rape and abuse of a child in 1991, prior arrests for assault, larceny, and several restraining orders taken out against him.
Fall River, MA: William Whitson, 47, found guilty of animal cruelty in pit bull stabbing casehttps://t.co/OSVGqhVjQm
— PitOwner (@PitOwnr) June 9, 2017
It was also revealed that Whitson was a registered level-3 sex offender, and was sentenced in 1994 to serve between 11 and 14 years after he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and unlawful possession of a firearm.
The Herald News later reported that William Whitson got “time served” in the pit bull stabbing case. After already serving 21 months and four days, Superior Court Judge Raymond Vera ruled that this was enough time. However, the judge ruled that Whitson’s wallet must suffer too.
As part of his sentence, the judge ruled that Whitson must pay $3,017 for the veterinary care that saved Smokey’s life. Odie’s Place, a no-kill shelter in Dartmouth, raised the money required to pay for Smokey’s care, so the money Whitson is required to pay will go to Odie’s Place for the care given to the dog.
Whitson’s full sentence was two and a half years in the House of Corrections, with one year, nine months, and four days deemed served. The rest of his sentence was suspended for two years; however, if Whitson gets into trouble with the law within two years he could be ordered to serve the remaining time of his original sentence.
Fall River, MA: Trial starts for William Whitson, 47, accused of stabbing pit bull outside barbershophttps://t.co/2SBQkjGPVc
— PitOwner (@PitOwnr) June 6, 2017
District Attorney Thomas Quinn said that the sentence imposed by the court was not “appropriate” given the actions of the accused and his violent criminal record.
“The defendant was convicted of stabbing a dog five times. That’s unheard of to me. He also has a significant criminal record. It’s no surprise he reacted in a violent way, as the jury found. Our recommendation of a four- to seven-year sentence was more appropriate, based on the defendant’s record and his conduct in this case, than the sentence imposed by the court.”
Following his sentencing hearing, Wilson was freed from custody and has already filed a Notice of Appeal.
[Featured Image by Balia/Shutterstock]