MONTGOMERY, Ala. - A Georgia man pleaded guilty Wednesday to his role in a massive dog fighting operation and his mother pleaded not guilty to threatening a co-defendant who provided information in the case.
Edward Duckworth, 39, of Decatur, Georgia, appeared in federal court in Montgomery, Alabama, and pleaded guilty to conspiracy. He admitted helping transport a dog from Georgia to Lee County in east Alabama for a dog fight on April 7, 2012. Duckworth and two other defendants were stopped by Georgia state troopers on their return home and officers found a dead dog in the car. A necropsy on the dog showed injuries consistent with dog fighting.
Prosecutors have now secured guilty pleas from 11 people from Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas. They were charged with participating in dog fights in Alabama and Mississippi where thousands were bet on each fight. Another defendant has agreed to plead guilty, but a plea agreement is still being worked out. Two others charged in the case are seeking admission to a pretrial diversion program, and prosecutors are seeking to drop a federal charge against another in return for him being prosecuted on a state charge.
A few minutes after Duckworth pleaded guilty, his mother, 61-year-old Mae Gussie Duckworth of Decatur, pleaded not guilty to a charge of threatening bodily harm against one of his co-defendants, Jennifer Hayden McDonald of Fairburn, Georgia, for providing information to law enforcement.
A federal grand jury indicted Mae Gussie Duckworth in May. The previous month, McDonald pleaded guilty to conspiracy and admitted she helped take the dog to the dog fight in Lee County in 2012.
Another defendant, Carlton Tippens of Riverdale, Georgia, was also indicted in connection with transporting the dog to Alabama. Prosecutors have filed court papers to drop the federal charge against him and have him prosecuted on a state charge in Lee County. He has pleaded not guilty in federal court.
The multi-year undercover investigation involved federal, state and local police. It resulted in the seizure of more than 400 dogs in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi. Animal rights groups described it as the nation's second largest dog fighting investigation. Most of the fights were held in a wooded area near Auburn, Alabama, and one man was stopped leaving a fight with $35,000 in cash.
No one has been sentenced in the case. Conspiracy carries a sentence of up to five years in prison and threatening a witness brings up to 20 years.