Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Knoxville
Session March 22, 2016
Appeal from the Criminal Court for Sullivan County No. S60042
R. Jerry Beck, Judge
Appellant, Van Trent, was convicted by a Sullivan County
Criminal Court Jury of five counts of facilitation of
dogfighting. The Appellant received concurrent sentences of
eleven months and twenty-nine days for each conviction, sixty
days of which was to be served in confinement and the
remainder on probation. On appeal, the Appellant challenges
the sufficiency of the evidence sustaining his convictions,
the trial court's instructing the jury on lesser-included
offenses over the Appellant's objection, the denial of
the Appellant's right to counsel, the admissibility of
expert testimony regarding the causation of scarring to the
dogs, the introduction of the Appellant's appearance bond
as rebuttal proof, and the trial court's denial of full
probation. Upon review, we affirm the judgments of the trial
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgments of the Criminal
G. Scott, Jr., Jonesborough, Tennessee (on appeal), and J.
Matt King, Kingsport, Tennessee (at trial), for the
Appellant, Van Trent.
Herbert H. Slatery III, Attorney General and Reporter; Renee
W. Turner, Senior Counsel; Barry Staubus, District Attorney
General; and Julie R. Canter, Assistant District Attorney
General, for the Appellee, State of Tennessee.
McGee Ogle, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in which
John Everett Williams and Timothy L. Easter, JJ., joined.
MCGEE OGLE, JUDGE
a search of 1207 Imperial Drive in Kingsport, the police
found four scarred pit bulls and a multitude of items related
to dogfighting. The police discovered that the address was
listed on the Appellant's driver's license and
checking accounts as his address. Thereafter, the Appellant
was charged with nine counts of dogfighting.
trial, Sergeant Jimmy Wayne McCready of the Sullivan County
Sheriff's Department testified that on October 20, 2011,
he was standing in the front yard of 1207 Imperial Drive,
waiting to execute a search warrant. The Appellant walked up
to him, and Sergeant McCready asked if he could help the
Appellant. The Appellant responded that "it was his home
or his house and wanted to know what was going on." At
that point, Sergeant McCready asked one of the detectives to
speak with the Appellant. Sergeant McCready had no further
contact with the Appellant.
cross-examination, Sergeant McCready acknowledged that in the
statement he gave to Detective Richard Kindle on February 2,
2012, he said that "homeowner Van Trent [the Appellant]
showed up." Sergeant McCready explained that although
the Appellant "never mentioned [being the] homeowner, he
mentioned that he was - it was his house, is how he put
County Detective Richard Kindle testified that he executed
the search warrant around dusk on October 20, 2011. Janette
Reever with the Humane Society of the United States also
participated in the search. During the search, Detective
Kindle found four pit bull dogs in the backyard. Two of the
dogs were in separate kennels. The other two dogs were each
chained to a different car axle that had been driven into the
Kindle also found a wooden treadmill in a storage building.
The Appellant told Detective Kindle that he made the
treadmill. Detective Kindle found a document titled "For
historical purposes only, Cajun Rules." The rules, which
were for dogfighting, had been written by "G.A. (Gaboon)
Trahan." The rules had been printed from the web site
"sporting-dog.com." Detective Kindle found several
books and magazines about pit bulls. Additionally, Detective
Kindle found a metal sled and a plastic tackle box. The words
"Liberty Farms" and "show" were written
on each end of the tackle box. Detective Kindle found framed
photographs of "Old Mountain Men Kennels" and the
Appellant's son, Travis Trent,  posing with a dog. Detective
Kindle found IV tubing, syringes with needles, and two
prescription bottles containing pills. He found a kennel
registration with the American Dog Breeders Association
(ADBA). The police also found antiseptic ointment, dietary
supplements, various veterinary items, a large metal spring,
a nylon harness, dog show award ribbons, and pedigree charts.
Detective Kindle discovered a dry cleaning receipt from a
business in North Carolina; the receipt was dated April 4,
2011. Detective Kindle also found a receipt from a hotel in
North Carolina that reflected a stay from January 30, 2011,
to February 2, 2011.
the Appellant's vehicle, Detective Kindle recovered the
Appellant's personal checks. The checks listed the
Appellant's address as 1207 Imperial Drive.
cross-examination, Detective Kindle acknowledged that the
search warrant reflected that the residence belonged to
"Travis Trent" and did not mention the
Appellant's name. When Detective Kindle spoke with the
Appellant at the property, the Appellant was cordial and
respectful. Detective Kindle stated that he found two
checkbooks in the Appellant's vehicle. The checks from
the Appellant's account at Eastman Credit Union reflected
that the Appellant's address was 1207 Imperial Drive. The
other checks, which were from the Appellant's account at
Charles Schwab, reflected that his address was 5104 Antler
Ridge Court, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Kindle said that he found no evidence of dogs or dogfighting
in the Appellant's vehicle. Additionally, he found no
evidence that dogs had been on the wooden treadmill the
Appellant had made. Detective Kindle conceded that he found
no evidence inside the residence that indicated the Appellant
was living there.
Kindle said that in the house, he found a kennel registration
that stated "Liberty Farms, Lovers and Breeders of
American Stratfordshire [sic] and Pit Bull Terriers, Travis
and Jill Trent, Kingsport, Tennessee." Detective Kindle
found no evidence that the Appellant was associated with the
dogs, the dog shows, or Liberty Farms Kennel. The
Appellant's name was not on any of the magazines found at
the house, and Detective Kindle did not find any evidence
that the Appellant had bought the veterinary supplies or had
used them on the animals. Detective Kindle did not find
videos or photographs of dogfighting, a fighting pit, a wash
tub, sponges, weight scales, blood, or dogfighting contracts.
Kindle said that after the four dogs were removed from the
property, they were taken to Dr. Becky DeBolt, a
veterinarian, for examination.
redirect examination, Detective Kindle stated that the
Appellant said he did not know where Travis Trent was;
nevertheless, from the dry cleaning and hotel receipts,
Detective Kindle surmised that Travis Trent was in North
Carolina. Detective Kindle noted that the Appellant showed up
at the property at the beginning of the search and that
despite Travis Trent's absence from the property, the
dogs had been fed and watered.
Kindle stated that the dog books and magazines were not
hidden and were openly displayed in the living room.
Detective Kindle knew that dogfighting was
"secretive"; therefore, he was not surprised when
he was unable to find "clearly labeled and named
evidence." Detective Kindle noted that the Appellant had
said he made the wooden treadmill by hand and that the police
found woodworking tools in the house.
parties stipulated to the admission of an affidavit that
reflected the Appellant applied to Eastman Credit Union on
October 20, 2011, and that the application reflected his
address was 1207 Imperial Drive. Additionally, the parties
stipulated to the admission of copies of the Appellant's
2010 and 2012 Tennessee driver's licenses. Each license
reflected that the Appellant's address was 1207 Imperial
Drive. The parties also stipulated to the admission of a
check from the Appellant's account at Regions Bank. The
check, which was written on April 26, 2010, listed the
Appellant's address as 1207 Imperial Drive. Finally, the
parties stipulated to two separate vehicle registrations in
the Appellant's name. The application for registration
for a 1993 Toyota was made on January 6, 2006, and the
vehicle registration renewal was dated February 4, 2011. The
application for registration for a 1994 Nissan was made on
February 13, 2007, and the vehicle registration renewal was
dated February 4, 2011. Both applications and both renewal
forms listed the Appellant's address as 1207 Imperial
County Detective Matthew Price testified that he found two
security cameras mounted on the exterior of the house: one
camera was located on the front porch, and the other was
aimed at a portion of the driveway. The cameras were motion
activated and were linked to a digital video recorder (DVR).
The police recovered recordings that were made from October 1
to October 16, 2011. The recordings showed the Appellant
coming to the property on four separate occasions. On each
occasion, he arrived in a white Toyota then walked toward the
garage. No cameras were directed toward the backyard, the
storage building, or the back door of the house.
cross-examination, Detective Price said that the security
recordings revealed the Appellant spent almost six hours at
the residence on October 2, he spent almost three and
one-half hours at the property on October 7, and he spent the
night at the property on October 12 and on October 14. The
recordings showed only the Appellant's arrivals and
departures, not his activities while at the property.
Reever, an expert in dogfighting, testified that she assisted
with the search of the house, yard, and outside building. A
"whelping kennel" for breeding dogs was in the
garage. Four American pit bull terriers were found in the
backyard. Their names were "Sadie, Brew, Blaze, and No
Name." Two of the dogs were on large chains. Each chain
was attached to half of a car axle; each axle had been driven
into the ground far enough apart so the dogs could not reach
each other. The chained dogs were "adjacent to" two
dogs that were in separate wire kennels. While waiting for
animal control officers to arrive, Reever interacted with the
dogs. The dogs were not aggressive toward her, which Reever
said was common for fighting dogs because they had to be
around people before, during, and after fights.
said that the injuries sustained by dogs as a result of
professional dogfighting usually occurred to the front legs,
head, muzzle, or "stifle area" on the rear leg. In
her work as a veterinary technician, Reever also had seen
untrained dogs after non-staged fights, and she said that the
injuries were different than those sustained during an
organized dogfight. Generally, a dog injured in a non-staged
fight had assumed a "submission position" and, as a
result, received injuries to the neck or abdominal area.
examined photographs that were taken of the four dogs
retrieved from Imperial Drive. Reever identified numerous
scars on the muzzle, ears, front legs, and rear leg of the
first dog, a "pup" approximately one year old. She
did not identify the name of the first dog. The second dog,
"No Name, " who was also approximately one year old
had scars to the head, ear, above the eye, shoulder, and
"all over" the front legs. Additionally, the dog
had multiple healed puncture wounds and a laceration above
the eye. The third dog, a seven- to nine-year-old Reever did
not identify by name, had scars to the ear and shoulder,
"pressure sores" on the front leg, and a healed
puncture wound. The final dog, Sadie, who was approximately
eleven years old, had lacerations to the ear, scarring on the
"hock area, " a healing puncture wound, and a
pressure sore. Reever said that based upon her training and
experience, her "expert opinion [was] that these dogs
were being raised and bred for the purpose of
said that a tackle box, which she called a "crash kit,
" was found in the garage. The kit contained white and
black chalk, and each shade could be used to conceal a
dog's scarring. Another item, an alligator hemostat, was
a surgical tool for "pinch[ing] off" a blood vessel
for suturing. The kit also contained an IV catheter, bag, and
line that could be used to "rapidly deliver intravenous
fluids" to combat the effects of blood loss, stress, and
shock in a dog after a fight. Further, the kit contained
betadine, an antiseptic for cleaning the area where the IV
would be inserted. Additionally, the kit contained saline
solution which could be used for hydrating a dog, rinsing a
wound, and diluting medications. Reever explained that crash
kits were commonly found at the homes of dogfighters because
dogfighters had to personally treat their dogs instead of
calling a veterinarian after a fight.
said that several of the dietary supplements found at the
property were used to help rebuild muscles of dogs that were
"heavily worked." Another supplement was for
"flush[ing] out the kidneys" after a dog was given
steroids so the dog's kidneys would not "fry."
stated that a "break stick" was found at the
residence and that the words "Liberty Farms Show"
were written on the side of the stick. Reever explained that
a break stick was used to pry open the mouth of a pit bull
dog. The stick had visible teeth marks on it, which indicated
the stick had been used.
recalled that copies of the "Sporting Dog Journal"
and the "American Pit Bull Terrier Gazette" were
found in the living room. The "Gazette" was
published by the ADBA, which certified and registered
pedigrees for pit bulls. The "Sporting Dog Journal"
was an "underground" journal used to disseminate
information about training dogs for fighting. Reever stated
that the "Sporting Dog Journal, " which was often
found in the homes of dogfighters, could be purchased only if
a known professional dogfighter vouched for the purchaser.
said that professional dogfighters usually had their own
kennel name and had dogs with established bloodlines. Reever
said that dogfights, which were often referred to as shows,
matches, or events, were established on a professional level
by either a written contract, "a gentleman's
agreement, " or a handshake. Reever noted that contracts
were seldom written; therefore, handshakes were the most
common way of establishing an agreement.
noted that dog pedigrees were found in the living room, but
none were for the dogs discovered at the residence.
Nevertheless, one of the pedigrees was "addressed to
Jill and Travis Trent" and was for a dog registered to
Liberty Farms Kennel. Each of the pedigrees listed dogs in
the lineage that were well-known among dogfighters. The
pedigrees also contained "code words" and were of
the type of pedigrees that were commonly "found at
properties where dogs are being trained for fighting
identified a copy of "The Cajun Rules" that was
retrieved from the residence. She explained that in the
1950s, Louisiana Chief of Police G.A. Gaboon Trahan wrote the
Cajun Rules, which were the most frequently used rules of
dogfighting. Reever said that during the eight-week period
before a fight, a dogfighter generally trained and
conditioned the dog on a daily basis. Dogfighters referred to
the period of conditioning as "the keep." The keep
included making the dog run, usually on a treadmill, for one
hour to one hour and forty-five minutes each day.
noted that a flirt pole and a spring pole were found on the
property. A flirt pole was made of a long, stable object,
such as a branch or a piece of PVC, from which was dangled an
item of "high value" to the dog, such as animal
hide or a stuffed animal. A spring pole was made from a
spring hanging from a solid, stable object, such as a pole,
from which a high value item was dangled. A sled was also
found on the property. She opined that the sled was too small
for legitimate weight pulling but that it could be used to
increase a dog's endurance.
cross-examination, Reever acknowledged that a photograph of
the first dog showed an injury to the rear area. Reever
acknowledged that during a "nonstaged" fight, a dog
could be injured on the rear area but that the injury would
typically be "by the base of the tail where the dog is
trying to run away." In the photograph, however, the
injury was not around the base of the tail and was instead on
"the top side area. It's called the stifle."
Reever said that although she noticed injuries to the
dogs' ears, none of the dogs had pieces of ear missing.
She said that the injuries to "No Name's" front
legs were inconsistent with the dog being in a submission
position. The third dog had wounds consistent with pressure
sores, which Reever could not say were caused by dogfighting.
The oldest dog, eleven-year-old Sadie, who was not
extensively scarred, had some scarring to her ear and healed
injuries to the stifle area. Reever was not certain the
injuries were caused by dogfighting; nevertheless, if the
injuries were caused by dogfighting, the fighting was not
recent. Reever explained that even if a dog was not used for
fighting, it could be used to breed fighting dogs if it had a
desirable blood line.
acknowledged that she had no evidence of the Appellant
attending or betting on a dogfight. She conceded that the
Appellant's name was not on any of the pedigrees for
Liberty Farms Kennel, but she stated, "A kennel can be a
multitude of people. . . . Just because someone's name is
on a kennel, there could be other partnerships that are also
involved in there." Reever stated that the authorities
did not find a fighting pit during the search but asserted
that it would have been unusual to find a fighting pit where
fighting dogs were housed.
stated that the harness and sled found at the property could
serve the dual purposes of legitimate weight pulling and
"conditioning a dog for a keep." She looked at a
photograph and agreed that the dog in the photograph was
wearing a harness similar to the one found at the residence,
that the dog appeared to be engaging in a weight pull, and
that the man in the photograph appeared to be Travis Trent.
The Appellant was not in the photograph.
stated that the tackle box found at the residence was a crash
kit for treating wounds received in a dog fight but that she
had no proof that the contents of the box had been used.
redirect examination, Reever noted that the two female dogs
found at the property had not been spayed and that the two
male dogs had not been neutered. She opined that if a sled
and harness were found at the same residence as a copy of the
Cajun rules for dogfighting, she did not think the sled and
harness would be used for "legitimate" purposes.
She said that the items found in the crash kit were not used
in weight pulls. She said that any one of the items found by
the police, if considered on its own, did not suggest
conclusively involvement in dogfighting but did suggest
dogfighting if considered together.
defense's first witness, Dr. Bea Moody testified that she
was a veterinarian who treated mainly dogs and cats. The
trial court allowed her to be designated as an expert in the
field of veterinary medicine.
Moody said that in the course of her practice, she had seen
dogs, including pit bulls, that had been injured during a
fight. She said that the types of wounds depended on how many
dogs were involved in the fight and the size of the dogs. She
said that pit bulls had huge jowls made up of "rock-hard
muscle" and that they had the strength to
"rip" skin and limbs from other dogs. Dr. Moody
said that pit bulls usually would attack near another
dog's groin or neck. Nevertheless, she asserted that pit
bulls were "good dogs" and that she did not
"see a whole lot of pit fights."
Moody said that after the four dogs were taken from the
Imperial Drive residence, they then were taken to
Young-Williams Animal Shelter. Several months later, the
Appellant contacted Dr. Moody and asked her to examine the
dogs. Dr. Moody's first visit was on August 9, 2012. She
said that the dogs were "excellent" and were not
Moody said she was provided a list of items that were seized
from the Imperial Drive property. She had to do independent
research because she did not recognize some of the items. She
talked with clients that owned pit bulls and a "master
groomer" that showed and bred pit bulls. She also
reviewed the "records and findings" of Dr. DeBolt,
who was "the veterinarian in charge of Young-Williams
Animal Shelter." Dr. Moody also looked at photographs of
the dogs that were taken in November.
Moody maintained that she and Dr. DeBolt found "no scars
indicative of dogfighting." Instead, Dr. Moody found
evidence of "normal wear and tear." She observed
that eleven-year-old Sadie had minimal scarring and that none
of the scarring indicated she had been involved in
dogfighting. She stated that one of the young dogs had scars
on his legs. She said that the dog was housed with another
young dog and that the scarring could be from the dogs
playing and gnawing on each other. In conclusion, she opined,
"These dogs have not been involved in fighting.
There's no evidence, physical or otherwise in my mind,
that they have been involved in fighting, or I wouldn't
cross-examination, Dr. Moody said that she had examined the
flirt pole. She had to "look it up 'cause [she]
wasn't sure what it was." When asked if she was
aware that the flirt pole was often used to train dogs to
fight, Dr. Moody responded, "I'm learning." Dr.
Moody did not know that the "Sporting Dog Journal"
was an underground publication that posted results from
dogfights. She acknowledged that a copy of the "Cajun
Rules" was recovered from the residence. She stated,
however, "I have several things at my house, books of