Twins acquitted of fatal dog burning

BALTIMORE -  

Two brothers charged with pouring gasoline onto a pit bull and then lighting her on fire have been found not guilty by a Baltimore City jury.

It's a case that has led to big changes in the way animal abuse cases are handled in the city.

It started when the pit bull was brought to the BARCS shelter back in may of 2009.

They called her "Phoenix" -- and she'd been burned over 80 percent of her body.  She was euthanized five days later.

Police say it happened in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood of West Baltimore.  Two teens, twin brothers Travers and Tremayne Johnson were found not guilty on Wednesday.

"Everyone rallied to try to help this dog who had been injured so badly and to seek justice, but we have a jury system and we have to accept the verdict," said Caroline Griffin, who leads the mayor's Anti-Animal Abuse Advisory Commission, which was formed directly as a result of Phoenix's death.

The Johnson brothers' first trial last year ended with a hung jury.  Witnesses who testified then, chose not to this time.

"I think this case was compromised by the fact that witnesses refused to testify," Griffin said.  "We need people to be the eyes and ears of animal cruelty and neglect and to report it and to testify when these cases go to court."

But the case has led to change.  City police officers now get special training on how to gather evidence from crime scenes involving animals.

"The animal, in an animal cruelty case is both evidence and the victim, and we need to consider both," said Dr. Randall Lockwood, the head of forensic sciences for the ASPCA.

It's a change that's taken hold at the BARCS shelter, where the Phoenix case led to calls and donations from around the country and the world.

"She did not die in vain and she will always be in our memories," said the executive director of BARCS, Jennifer Brause.  "I think it's a very sad outcome but I do not think that people should think that's how all animal abuse cases are going to turn out."

In a statement, Baltimore City State's Attorney Gregg Bernstein called the jury's verdict "disappointing."  But he said his office will continue to vigorously prosecute animal cruelty cases.

Travers and Tremayne Johnson are still in jail, being held on other charges.

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