Longform

Blood Sport

Page 4 of 5

In Texas, it's a felony to organize or participate in a dogfight. But to Martinez's consternation, even with the evidence from Rebel Kennels, he could not convince either the Houston Police Department or the Harris County District Attorney's Office to bring criminal charges against Mark Anthony Davis.

The SPCA settled for a civil procedure: a court order allowing the organization to seize the animals that remained at Rebel Kennels. (Nothing could be done about the dogs Davis had removed from the kennel, since authorities didn't know where he had taken them.) In December, the SPCA hauled the remaining dogs to its shelter.

Davis appealed the seizure, and fought to get his dogs back. The county's lawyer argued that Davis had long been involved in dogfighting. Not only did he have training equipment in his yard, and not only had he been arrested in Michigan, he'd even been videotaped training dogs to fight.

Davis claimed that he'd left the dogfighting business, and that he was training his pit bulls not to fight, but to hunt wild boars. He said he was working to return the American pit bull to its British roots: the Staffordshire terrier, a dog bred for blood sport but not as temperamentally unstable as its American cousin.

Davis testified that the 34 pit bulls were worth $100,000 -- roughly $3,000 each. The county's lawyer seized on that price.

"Even Fifi the poodle isn't worth $3,000," says Terry O'Rourke, the assistant county attorney who handled the case. "The very fact that they contended that the dogs were worth so much meant that Davis had to be training them to fight."

Davis claimed great love for his dogs. At one point, while testifying about his affection for them, he broke down and cried.

O'Rourke says he has no doubt that, on some warped level, Davis loves the dogs. "I think of it in the same vein as the people who have sex with children. My feeling was of watching a sex offender who tells a social worker who is taking his kids away how much he loves the children."

"There is a dark side to us all," says the attorney. "The way we cheer a vicious hit at a football game. But this is beyond dark."

After Davis's appeal was denied, the dogs were destroyed. Davis's attorney, Brent Leidtke, wisecracks that he may be the only attorney in the country to have had 34 clients executed in one case.

In January -- about two months after the murders at Rebel Kennels, when the Vasquez murder investigation seemed to have stalled for good -- Doyle received a call from a pair of Chicago detectives. They were investigating a dope deal gone bad. On a street in south Chicago, a man and woman had been shot. The man, Jodie Murray, died from his wounds; the woman, Crystal Jackson, was left paralyzed -- but still able to answer questions.

Jackson told the Chicago detectives that Murray had gone to Houston around Thanksgiving. He returned with a couple of dogs and claimed to have killed two men.

"Obviously, we were interested in talking to this woman ourselves," says Doyle. Along with Bonaby, he was soon en route to Chicago.

Crystal Jackson told the Houston detectives that her late boyfriend had once worked for Mark Anthony Davis in Houston, helping him with his dog business. At one point, Murray lived in one of the front bedrooms of Davis's house.

While working for Davis, Murray accompanied him to a dogfight in Louisiana. There they met a suspected dope dealer from Chicago, Herman Matthews -- known to federal authorities as Yum Yum. In addition to drugs, Yum Yum also dabbled in pit bulls, and had been interested in buying a couple from Davis. The two men became friends, Jackson told the detectives, and even traveled to Mexico together to attend a dogfight there.

When the two men returned from Mexico, Yum Yum agreed to pay Davis $4,000, in two installments, for one of his dogs. But before Yum Yum actually took custody of the dog, Davis would train the animal for him.

For some reason, even after the dog had been paid for in full, Davis kept coming up with excuses why he couldn't send the animal to Chicago. Yum Yum was not pleased.

Yum Yum was hardly the only person on the outs with Davis. The dog trainer had also fallen out with Murray, who went to Chicago to work for Yum Yum. It wasn't long before the drug dealer had a special assignment for his new employee: to go take the dog from Davis.

Yum Yum provided Murray with a pistol, two men to assist him, and a prostitute to keep him company. The Chicago delegation piled into a van and headed to Houston.

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Steve McVicker