Key witnesses who identified the dog owner suspected of taping Caitlyn’s mouth shut this spring grew so concerned about threats they were getting that they left South Carolina, a Charleston prosecutor said Friday.
The development in the abuse case that had animal lovers worldwide rooting for the pup’s recovery came during a downtown hearing to revoke a previous bail arrangement for the suspect, 41-year-old William Leonard Dodson of Quitman Street in North Charleston.
Dodson has been behind bars since his June 1 arrest on a felony charge of ill-treating animals. But when he was jailed in Caitlyn’s injuries, Dodson had been free on $110,000 bail on drug and weapons charges stemming from a March arrest.
Citing the alleged threats and reports that Dodson had left the state to buy drugs before his most recent arrest, 9th Circuit Judge Roger Young agreed to rescind bail.
Dodson bought Caitlyn, then named Diamond, from North Charleston residents in late May for $20, but he later complained to a witness that the Staffordshire-bull terrier mix was barking too much, so he bound her mouth with electrical tape, Assistant Solicitor Ted Corvey told the judge Friday.
After the dog broke free of its chain outside Dodson’s home, Corvey said officers found her with the tape wrapped nine times around her muzzle.
Renamed Caitlyn, the dog lost part of her tongue and later underwent a series of surgeries to repair the damage.
North Charleston Police Department Detective Thomas Bilancione based Dodson’s arrest on the witness statements.
Since then, the dog’s original owners have become the targets of threats from Dodson’s associates, including his wife, the prosecutor said. They got so many threats that they left town, though Corvey said the witnesses have remained in touch with him.
“They are very fearful that if they return to the state before this matter is resolved that something may happen to them,” Corvey said.
While the charge, which carries up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine, heads toward trial, Dodson’s attorney said she was concerned that the key witnesses in the case have fled the state, casting suspicion on themselves.
Assistant Public Defender Meagan Gentry indicated that the case against her client is flimsy because it relies on witness statements. No other evidence ties Dodson to the crime, she said.
The wife’s comments that were perceived as threats, Gentry said, amounted to her getting upset about his arrest and telling the dog’s original owners things like, “I can’t believe you had him arrested. Why did you have him arrested?”
Authorities have not accused Dodson himself of making any of the threats, Gentry noted. Official documentation of the allegations was not immediately available from the police on Friday.
“I think it’s more concerning that the people ... who had the dog previously and then said, ‘Oh, it wasn’t us. We sold this dog,’ are the ones now leaving the state,” Gentry said.
Dodson is a felon with a short arrest record in South Carolina but a lengthy rap sheet in his home state of Georgia, the prosecutor said at Friday’s hearing. He has convictions there for various drug violations, burglary, being a felon in possession of a firearm, pointing a gun and carrying a concealed weapon.
At the time of his arrest, he was on parole for crimes in Georgia. His supervision was transferred to South Carolina when he moved here with his wife three years ago. He still traveled to Atlanta on occasion, the prosecutor said, and recently made a trip there to buy drugs.
On March 9, a North Charleston patrolman pulled over his moped on Chicora Avenue for disregarding a stop sign. Dodson ran, but an officer caught him, finding a small bag of crack cocaine on him and a loaded Beretta 9mm pistol that he had dropped, court records showed.
That troubled past contributed to Young’s order Friday keeping him behind bars as Georgia also moves to revoke his parole.
Life for Caitlyn, though, has improved since she was found in such desperate shape less than two months ago.
Aldwin Roman, anti-cruelty and outreach director for the Charleston Animal Society, said the dog continues to thrive with her foster family, often frolicking with a canine playmate while her wounds heal.
Her scars will not go away, Roman said, but the sweet pup should never again have to fear abuse. Assurance of that rests in the number of people who have expressed interest in adopting her after the heartbreaking images of her wounds hit the Internet.
“Her foster family is completely in love with her. We would hope that she stays with them,” Roman said. “But if not ... we’re not too worried about finding someone that wants to adopt and love Caitlyn for the rest of her life.”
Reach Andrew Knapp at 937-5414 or twitter.com/offlede.