Originally created 12/20/96

Condemned dog stolen from Death Row



AIKEN - Abraham got two stays of execution Thursday, - first from a dognapper, then from a judge.

The pit bull was still on the lam late Thursday after being sprung from his cell at the Aiken Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals between Wednesday night and early Thursday morning. The dognapper has not been found.

Abraham had been at the SPCA shelter nearly two years after Municipal Judge Charles E. Simons III ruled him a dangerous animal who should be destroyed. Last month time ran out for Abraham when the state Supreme Court denied an appeal filed by his owner, Russell Whitt.

City officials had scheduled his execution between 1 and 2 p.m. Thursday. But about 7:45 a.m., a SPCA worker discovered the lock had been broken on the front door to the animal shelter.

"The only thing missing is Abraham," said Julie Brendell, acting vice-chairman of the SPCA's board of trustees.

A trail of paw prints led from the shelter down a long dirt driveway leading away from the SPCA office. Jeff Wilson, the city's animal control officer, said someone who knew Abraham must have taken the dog because the paw trail indicates the dog walked away quietly.

"If he don't know you, he's still a dangerous dog," he said. "He still has the potential and ability to bite. I know what his teeth feel like."

But the dog-napping might not have been necessary. Judge Simons, amid an outpouring of protests from people who called Gov. David Beasley's office and city officials seeking clemency for Abraham, issued a stay of execution shortly after learning of the dog's disappearance.

The judge will review his execution order, if the dog is found, "with a view toward acceptable alternatives to taking his life," a press release from the Aiken Department of Public Safety stated.

City councilman Skipper Perry said he made a personal appeal Thursday morning to his friend Judge Simons to reconsider his execution order.

"That was decent of (Judge Simons)," the councilman said. "I don't agree with kidnapping (the dog) and I hope whoever did it will send him back and handle it the proper way."

Everyone is cooperating with the investigation by the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, Ms. Brendell said.

"Basically the law has been broken," she said. "We'll do what we can to help recover Abraham." But, she added, "We all loved Abraham. We're happy not to have to euthanize him (Thursday)."

Abraham was impounded and taken to the SPCA shelter on Jan. 25, 1995 after Aiken Department of Public Safety officers were called to a Palm Drive residence to investigate a loud music complaint.

When the officers smelled marijuana, they entered the residence. According to police reports, William Holley, who was staying in the house where Abraham lived, ordered the dog to attack Sgt. Mark Farmer.

The officer fired his gun at Abraham, who retreated until Mr. Holley commanded the dog again to "get him, get him," a police report states. Mr. Holley was convicted at a jury trial on May 11, 1995 on charges of harboring a vicious animal, court records show. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail or a $304 fine.

Similar charges including failure to restrain an animal and owning a vicious animal are pending against Mr. Whitt, officials said.

An attempt to reach Mr. Whitt through his lawyer, Elmer Hatcher, was unsuccessful.