NEWKIRK — Jerry Lee Southern – the Wichita man accused of animal neglect in the Pit Bull case - made his initial appearance in Kay County District Court Wednesday with his attorney.
He is represented by Grace Yates of the Holmes and Yates Law Firm.
Southern is charged with 70 counts of animal cruelty in connection with the 106 dogs found chained and hungry at 7551 west Dry Road on Dec. 2.
He appeared before Judge Phil Ross and told the court that he has been a resident of Wichita since the age of 14 and that he has a girlfriend and three step children at home and three children outside the home that depend on his income.
He confirmed that he has no family in Kay County and that he is renting the property owned by Tremekia Atkinson on Dry Road and clarified that he is 36.
Southern said he is a self employed tow truck driver in the Wichita area and that his truck is paid off.
Yates made a 20 minute plea for Southern’s bond to be reduced from $250,000 to $15,000.
“It is apparent this case has drawn a significant amount of publicity,” said Yates.
“If you sniff through the sensationalism and the information you will see that a $250,000 bond is excessive under both the constitution and the state constitution.”
Yates pointed out that Southern’s criminal record does not include bail jumping or failure to appear.
“The purpose of bond is to agree to appear for a court date not punishment,” she said.
“My client cooperated with the sheriff’s department. When they called and wanted him to come down here about the dogs, he did so voluntarily. He did not book a flight to Mexico. So here we are on Dec. 17. He has been in the Kay County jail since Dec. 2 unable to earn income. His retainer fee will not carry him through a preliminary hearing. The county has had experts and others at the site destroying and changing evidence. My client is entitled to the same right to hire his own experts.”
Yates said she has visited the dog site.
“Those dogs are in the same environment now as they were before Southern was arrested,” she said.
She then compared Southern’s bond to other bonds set in animal cruelty cases across the state including the Osage County 2005 case against Dale Randall, in which her legal partner Kenneth Holmes, defended Randall for a short time.
“Randall was charged with 38 counts of animal cruelty and his bond was set at $10,000 own recognizance,” Yates said.
“No where could I find a similar case with a similar bond. Bail must be reasonable. We intend to defend this case vigorously and we ask that bond be reduced to $15,000. That is what he can post.”
Assistant District Attorney Tara Portillo argued that bond should not be reduced and called Yates’ accusations erroneous and offensive.
“Her implications that the sheriff’s department is destroying and changing evidence is offensive at the least,” said Portillo.
“They have busted their tails to try and help those dogs. Those dogs now belong to the sheriff’s office and they have the burden.”
Portillo argued that if released on bond, Southern could be a flight risk despite having no bail jumping history.
“He has never been facing 350 years in prison before,” said Portillo. She justified bond being raised from the initial $50,000 to $250,000.
“The state alleges that he lied to officials and told them no more dogs would be found on the property,” Portillo said.
“The next day the 10 puppies were found and they were the worst of the worst. They were found in crates filled with 3-5 inches of feces. There were mechanical devices used in dog fighting and breeding found and the state does not feel that bond should be lowered, and if it is, it should not go below $100,000.”
She spoke of Southern’s animal cruelty convictions in Kansas and his November arrest in Wichita on a host of charges including leaving the scene of an injury accident and she reminded the judge that Southern was ordered by Butler County Kansas District Court never to own a pit bull again.
“He has shown no respect for what a court does or says,” said Portillo. After listening to both sides Judge Ross clarified that he did not set bond at $250,000 but that he set the initial bond amount of $50,000.
Bond was later raised by Judge Lee Stout.
“I struggle with this bond,” said Ross.
“Not in any of my wildest dreams did I think someone would be facing 350 years on animal cruelty charges. I think $50,000 is appropriate and that is what I will set bond at.”
Southern remains in the Kay County and his next court date is scheduled for Jan. 16.