COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The conviction of a Dillon County man whose dogs killed a 10-year-old boy should be reinstated, state prosecutors told the state Supreme Court Tuesday, saying a lower court was wrong to throw out the case over autopsy photographs.
The Attorney General's office is appealing the Court of Appeals' decision to overturn Bentley Collins' conviction and prison sentence for involuntary manslaughter and owning dangerous animals. In 2006, six of Collins' dogs attacked, mauled and killed John Matthew Davis, whose body was found in Collins' yard. Davis' house was less than a mile away.
Collins was convicted in 2007, sentenced to five years in prison and ordered not to own any more dogs. But the Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that a trial judge had been wrong to allow prosecutors to show the jury gruesome photographs taken by a pathologist who did the boy's autopsy. The photographs showed how the dogs mauled him so badly that his bones were exposed and his ears and nose were eaten.
Assistant Attorney General William Blitch referenced the pathologist's testimony and told the justices that the photographs showed that the dogs attacked the boy not because they had been provoked but because they were starving and saw him as food.
"They came from behind his legs, took him down and then consumed him," Blitch said.
Several of the justices asked Blitch why the photos were necessary, particularly given that the pathologist had also prepared a detailed autopsy report.
"If these photographs do not cross the line, then how would any photographs not cross the line?" Associate Justice Kaye Hearn asked.
Collins' attorney told the court that the photos were disturbing but didn't add anything to the state's case that wasn't already in an autopsy report.
"This evidence added very little other than the chilling nature of them," Susan Hackett said. "There was nothing scientific."
But even if some evidence may upset jurors, justices asked, shouldn't that be allowed?
"All truthful portrayals of a violent criminal scene are clearly disturbing. ... Upsetting and prejudiced are two different things," Chief Justice Jean Toal said.
The court will issue its decision later.
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