Hillsborough trial delves into world of dogfighting

Dogs act aggressively on the property of Maurice Bayless as seen in a photograph used as evidence in his trial.

Special to the Times

Dogs act aggressively on the property of Maurice Bayless as seen in a photograph used as evidence in his trial.

TAMPA — A man squeezes his legs around a panting pit bull and growls a command.

"Come on," he says.

The dog eyes a second pit bull — this one scar-faced, a proven fighting champion — and then lunges.

The squeals last for seconds on a carpet already dotted with brown droplet stains. The champion is yanked from the room, and the panting dog is released to track him.

"Go get him, son."

Prosecutors say the man in the video is Maurice F. Bayless, 49.

He's on trial this week in Hillsborough County on felony charges of baiting, breeding, owning and promoting animals for fighting.

He has caught the attention of Animal Services investigators for more than a decade and has a tattoo of a dog on his arm that says "scratch to win."

In his home off Interbay Boulevard in South Tampa, investigators in April 2008 said they found eight pit bull puppies in a filthy cage and 10 adult dogs, flea-bitten, parasite-infested and tethered by chains.

This was where he ran Going Hard Kennels, a breeding and training ground for dogfighting, prosecutors told jurors Tuesday.

Boxes of evidence fouled the courtroom air and offered glimpses, prosecutors said, of the blood sport underworld.

Assistant State Attorney Natalia Silver wore gloves as she pulled out pieces.

There were weighted collars and vests, used to strengthen dogs' muscles; records of dogfights; underground magazines focused on the sport; a certificate labeling one of Bayless' dogs a champion.

Prosecutors said Bayless kept medical equipment — syringes, scalpels, sutures, needles.

"This man," Silver said, "would know how to do any type of surgery on a dog that was bitten in a fight."

Bayless' attorney, Mark Rodriguez, said the articles in the boxes couldn't convict his client. Chains and harnesses themselves are legal. The intent behind them could not be demonstrated, he maintained.

"The evidence in this case is going to be woefully lacking as to Mr. Bayless' intent," he said.

Bayless is also charged with marijuana possession and possession of controlled substances. In total, he faces seven felony charges and one misdemeanor. If convicted of all and sentenced consecutively, he could get a maximum of 36 years in prison.

His girlfriend and co-defendant, Celena Brantley, was convicted on similar dogfighting charges last year. She will be sentenced after the Bayless trial.

Marti Ryan, spokeswoman for Hillsborough County Animal Services, said Brantley was the first woman in the United States to be convicted of dogfighting.

The Bayless trial continues today before Circuit Judge William Fuente.

While the judge and jury hear the case, the fate of the victims has already been decided.

At first, when dogs like these are seized, they spend time in a yard where they can exercise and socialize and play, Ryan said. Eventually, they need to be tested to see if they're safe for adoption.

Some dogs are. They're labeled "pit bull ambassadors" and find loving homes. Others, too aggressive, fail the test.

Hillsborough State Attorney's Office spokesman Mark Cox told what happened to the pit bulls in this case:

The puppies were adopted.

The others were euthanized.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Hillsborough trial delves into world of dogfighting 11/30/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 11:03pm]

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