Saturday, March 18, 2017

Virginia: Twelve years ago this month, while walking on her own property, Dorothy Sullivan, 82, and her beloved Shih Tzu named Buttons were attacked and killed by a pack of pit bulls

VIRGINIA -- Today I stumbled on some Virginia Court of Appeals decisions that were posted online and was able to re-read the horrific details of Dorothy Sullivan's death back in 2005.

According to Wikipedia, the pit bulls' owner (and registered sex offender) Deanna Large (aka Deanna Hilda Large, Deanna Large-Irving, Deanna Irving) at one time had 13 pit bulls living in her trailer. These pit bulls were allowed to roam loose, attacking and killing pets, and menacing neighbors who repeatedly complained to Animal Control about Large and her vicious dogs.

Large, who was facing 10 years in prison, was instead sentenced to just 3 years and fined $500. After her conviction, Large's attorney immediately filed an appeal complaining that "the trial court erred (1) in finding the evidence sufficient, as a matter of law, to convict her of involuntary manslaughter and, (2) in denying her motions for the appointment of defense experts in animal behavior and trace evidence."

Thankfully, law enforcement and prosecutors dig a great job and the Appeals court denied her: "Finding no error, we affirm the trial court’s judgment and appellant’s conviction."


On March 8, 2005, authorities found Dorothy Sullivan’s body on the edge of her
property, having been mauled to death by three pit bull terriers. In the woods next to her property, authorities found Buttons’s body, still attached to its fully-extended leash.

Appellant and Renie Costello, also residents of the Oak Crest Subdivision, owned the only pit bull dogs in the area.

In August of the year preceding the March 8, 2005 attack, a “brindle colored” and two other pit bulls entered the property of Donna Moore, another Oak Crest resident.

The three dogs tore the floor out of her mobile home, attacking her cats and killing one of her kittens.

Moore confirmed with appellant’s daughter that the dogs belonged to appellant, and then informed her that appellant’s dogs had just attacked Moore’s cats. Moore also complained to Animal Control and in response, Animal Control Officer Bill Clarke investigated at appellant’s home and discovered that three of appellant’s pit bulls ran loose that morning.

Appellant claimed that the puppy had returned home, but the two other dogs remained at-large. After the warden left, Moore sat at the end of her driveway, saw the dogs return to her yard, and then she followed them. She saw appellant’s daughter walk down the road and call to the dogs. Eventually the
dogs left with appellant’s daughter.

Later that day, Clarke returned to appellant’s house when he saw two female pit bulls located in appellant’s driveway. Clarke captured the dogs, identified as Charity and Scarlet, and informed appellant that they matched the description of two that had chased and possibly killed one of Moore’s cats. Clarke also told appellant that she had violated the county-wide leash law by allowing her dogs to run free. Appellant surrendered both dogs to the county and in exchange, Clarke agreed to forgo the ordinance violations.

In October 2004, Janet Stegner, who lived about eight hundred feet from appellant’s house in the same subdivision, saw two brindles and one black and white pit bull tree her cat.

The two brindles turned and came towards her growling, and the black and white dog retreated towards appellant’s property. Janet Stegner and her daughter had called the dog warden on two occasions concerning the pit bull dogs treeing her cat.

Two weeks before the March 8, 2005 attack, James Stegner, Janet Stegner’s husband, saw two brindle pit bulls and a black and white pit bull “tree[] all four” of his cats. Stegner knew the dogs belonged to appellant because he had been chasing them off of his property towards appellant’s for over a year. A few times during the chases, he watched the dogs go “up into the cul-de-sac and then off the cul-de-sac up into [appellant’s] driveway.”

Jamie Blair, appellant’s next-door neighbor, witnessed appellant’s pit bulls running at-large on her property “five or six” times. Consequently, Blair called appellant’s home, usually speaking with one of her children, and informed them that her dogs roamed loose on Blair’s property. In response, appellant or appellant’s children would retrieve the dogs.

On one occasion about a week before the March 8 attack, two black and one brindle colored pit bulls approached Blair’s open sliding glass door. The three dogs growled at Blair’s children who stood at the window. Again, Blair phoned appellant’s home to inform her. Blair called Animal Control only once regarding appellant’s loose dogs.

On March 1, 2005, Mary Embrey, another resident of Oak Crest Subdivision, called Animal Control when she saw three pit bulls attack and kill her German shepherd. She described one of the pit bulls as “black with a little white diamond,” the second as a “brindle,” and the third as “black.” Officer Clarke responded to Embrey’s call and together they went to appellant’s home. When Clarke asked appellant to exhibit every dog she owned, appellant brought out three black and white pit bulls, including a puppy.

Embrey failed to identify the three exhibited dogs as those that attacked her German shepherd and claimed the dogs involved were “hiding somewhere else.”

When Clarke told appellant that three pit bulls had killed the German shepherd, appellant “shrug[ged] her shoulders” in response. When Embrey told appellant that the pit bulls involved were “very dangerous” and that Embrey would like to see the dogs caught “before they killed somebody else or somebody’s child,” appellant just looked at her and walked away.

Subsequently, Embrey, Embrey’s husband, and Officer Clarke investigated Renie
Costello’s home, the only other pit bull owner in the neighborhood. There, they confirmed that Costello restrains her two pit bulls in her home and by an enclosed yard. After seeing Costello’s pit bull tied up in her backyard, Embrey and her husband informed Officer Clarke that Costello’s pit bull was not involved in the German shepherd attack.

On March 8, 2005, seven days after the German shepherd attack, Mrs. Sullivan’s
daughter, Doris Phelps, drove out to see her mother.

Upon arrival, she encountered three “very aggressive” and “growling” dogs that came running towards her. Phelps entered Mrs. Sullivan’s home and called to her mother and Buttons.

After no response, Phelps stepped outside and saw the same three dogs over by the edge of the woods. Phelps screamed for her mother and Buttons, realizing that her mother was lying at the edge of the woods where the dogs hovered. 

She saw the dogs circling and standing over her mother’s body. The dogs charged Phelps again, whereupon she re-entered her mother’s home, found a rolled up newspaper insert she could use to frighten the dogs, exited the home, and moved down the steps towards her mother. When the dogs approached Phelps for the third time, she used the newspaper to smack them on the nose
until she could step back into the house and call 911.

Responding to a call from dispatch, Officer Clarke arrived at Mrs. Sullivan’s home along with the fire and rescue squad. A few minutes later, Deputy Sheriff Mark Shull joined Clarke and both officers drew their weapons and stood on the edge of the woods to ensure the rescue squad could safely remove Mrs. Sullivan’s body.

Then the officers spotted two dogs coming through the woods but the dogs retreated toward an area of the subdivision called Cypress Court where appellant lived. Clarke got into his truck and drove to Cypress Court. He approached appellant’s house and saw a black, white and brindle pit bull, later identified as Nikki, exit the woods and run up to appellant’s porch.

Appellant admitted to Clarke that she owned Nikki, whereupon Clarke seized the dog and later showed it to Phelps who positively identified Nikki as one involved in her mother’s attack. Subsequently, Nikki was euthanized.

While Officer Clarke investigated at appellant’s home, Officer Shull remained on Mrs. Sullivan’s property. There, he saw a small black dog and a larger brindle dog emerge at the wood line, both animals matching Phelps’s previous description to Shull.

The two dogs charged Officer Shull whereupon he fired four rounds, killing the small black one at the scene and hitting the larger brindle dog. Authorities later found the brindle dog dead in the woods. 

Animal Control officers canvassed the whole area that day and found no other pit bulls.

Mrs. Sullivan’s autopsy report revealed that she died from “severe multiple penetrating trauma to her body which trauma was consistent with a dog attack.” 

Consistent with ordinary practice during an autopsy, no hairs were removed from her head.

Mrs. Sullivan’s fractured left wrist was “consistent” with a fall that could have occurred by her being pulled down to the ground suddenly by her dog’s leash wrapped around her left wrist when the larger dogs attacked and suddenly dragged her dog away. 

Two days after Mrs. Sullivan’s death, Animal Control Officer Jason Cook responded to appellant’s call that two more of her pit bulls, identified as Lilith and Treasure, ran at-large.

Appellant explained that the dogs “must have gotten out when one of the children left the house.” After searching appellant’s property, the two dogs reappeared and appellant surrendered them to Officer Cook.

Joseph Cagnina, a detective with the Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Department,
investigated the March 8, 2005 fatality at appellant’s home. There, appellant told Cagnina that she owned Nikki, but did not claim the other two dogs involved. Appellant also disclosed that she did not restrain her dogs or use any kind of safety device, leashes, fences, or chains. She told Cagnina that she allowed her dogs to leave the residence for ten to fifteen minutes at a time to
relieve themselves. Initially, appellant owned thirteen pit bulls, gave some away over time, but claimed ultimately to have kept only three. On March 8, 2005, she claimed to own three pit bulls.

On March 10, when Cagnina returned to appellant’s home, he noticed one dog running at-large. That same day, appellant signed over what she claimed to be her last two pit bulls to Officer Cook. Appellant told Cagnina that she knew pit bulls had an aggressive nature.

Appellant’s kennel license had expired in 2004. Her front screen door did not lock, and the lower part of the door was broken. Additionally, her dogs entered and exited the home freely.

Appellant had no gate attached to her fenced-in area on her property. When Detective Cagnina searched appellant’s home, he found a dog’s choke chain attached to a brass “guard security” lock, several other brass padlocks and keys, and additional dog chains and leashes.

Upon comparison, Cagnina discovered that appellant’s choke chain and brass “guard security” lock matched the model, shape, and size of the lock and chain found on the brindle dog shot at the
scene and later found dead in the woods next to Mrs. Sullivan’s property.

At appellant’s trial, the Commonwealth marked for identification photographs depicting three different pit bull dogs.

Exhibit 3 depicts a male reddish brindle pit bull, identified by witnesses as Zamal, wearing a choke chain collar with a brass lock engraved with the words “guard security.”

Exhibit 4 illustrates another male black pit bull with some spots of white on its neck and chest.

Exhibit 5 depicts a black male pit bull with some brindle, identified by witnesses as Nikki. The three pit bulls in the exhibit photographs were not licensed in Spotsylvania

Doris Phelps testified that Zamal was the dog that approached and stood “right in front” of her when she moved down the stairs with a rolled newspaper insert to fight off the dogs on March 8, 2005. Phelps also identified the dog in Exhibit 4 as the dog that approached her on the right side. She identified Nikki in Exhibit 5 as the pit bull that approached her on her left.

Officer Clarke identified Nikki as the same dog he captured at appellant’s home
immediately following Mrs. Sullivan’s attack.

Renie Costello, the only other pit bull owner in the development, knew that appellant owned Zamal because Costello had been to appellant’s home to show appellant her own pit bull named Dozer.

Janet Stegner identified Zamal as one of the dogs that had treed her cat. James Stegner also identified Zamal as the dog “on [his] car with the cat up the tree” with the other two dogs that chased his cats about two weeks before the March 8 fatality. James recognized Nikki as the dog that traveled with Zamal.

Jamie Blair testified that she recognized Zamal as a dog belonging to appellant. Blair also knew appellant owned two black pit bulls, but could not positively identify them as the dogs depicted in Exhibits 4 and 5.

Mary Embrey testified that Zamal was the “last one involved” that “finished [] off” the attack and death of her German shepherd. The pit bull depicted in Exhibit 4 and Nikki also took part in the attack.

Leroy George, an expert locksmith, testified that a key recovered from appellant’s home would unlock the brass lock found there and also fit the lock tumbler of Zamal’s collar.

Dr. Karl Magura, a Virginia Department of Agriculture employee, testified as an expert in the field of veterinary medicine. Appellant also adopted Dr. Magura as appellant’s animal behavioralist. Dr. Magura stated that he performed necropsies on the three dogs depicted in Exhibits 3, 4, and 5 and on Mrs. Sullivan’s shih tzu.

Magura testified that the shih tzu bled to death as a result of several neck bites that had severed the jugular vein.

During Magura’s examination of Nikki, he found hair, foreign body material, red carpet plastic, and no dog food in the dog’s stomach contents. Nikki’s distal colon contained hair longer than the dog’s hair indicating that the hair passed through the dog’s digestive tract.

Magura further testified that originally, people bred pit bull dogs to be aggressive towards other dogs and specifically bred them to fight each other in dog pits. If properly trained and supervised, however, pit bulls are “some of the nicest dogs” a dog owner could expect to have.

On cross-examination, Magura stated that pit bulls are “no more aggressive than a German shepherd or a Doberman or anything of that nature.” Magura also explained that normally, dogs recently involved in a mauling would not separate due to their pack mentality.

Despite appellant’s objection, Cary Oien, a forensic examiner with the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, testified as an expert in the field of forensic trace evidence. Oien stated that neither hair nor fiber examinations are “means of absolute personal identification.” Hairs obtained from hairbrushes and combs are not considered a “known scientific sample” because the hairs are not “plucked from someone’s head.”

Oien further explained that he would find two hair samples to be “consistent” with each other and therefore, derived from the same source if he found no significant differences between them. Oien testified that he analyzed hairs from Mrs. Sullivan’s hairbrushes and combs finding none that looked remarkably different within that sample range. As a result, he concluded that the hairbrush and comb samples would constitute a reasonable known sample of Mrs. Sullivan’s hair.

Oien also performed a microscopic comparison of Mrs. Sullivan’s hairbrush and comb hairs with the hairs found in Nikki’s stomach and concluded that the hairs “exhibited the same microscopic characteristics” and that he could find “no significant differences” between the two sample groups.

The jury subsequently convicted appellant of involuntary manslaughter.

If there's any good to come of this horrible event, Virginia enacted a new statute making such future reckless conduct a felony.

Full Name: Deanna Hilda Large
Aliasas: Deanna Large, Deanna Irving, Deanna Large Irving, Deanna Hilda Large, Deanna Hilda Large Irving
Last Known Address: 6245 Brandon Ave, Springfield, VA 22150
Offense/Statute: Aggravated Sexual Battery
Date Convicted: September 16, 1998


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