Sabastiano Quagliata, and his wife, Valbona Lucaj, pleaded “no contest” to a manslaughter charge in Lapeer County, Michigan before Judge Holowka this past Friday. The charge had been amended from second-degree murder, in connection with the death of Craig Sytsma (46). The couple’s two Cane Corso dogs had mauled and killed Sytsma as he was jogging near their residence on July 23rd when the dogs got loose from their pens. The dogs had apparently caused problems in the past as well, and the owners may have been warned about the dog’s propensity towards violence. The case marked the 6th murder conviction for dog attacks in the country since 1992.
According to the prosecutor, prior judicial rulings on evidentiary issues had weakened the original murder charge, but he predicts a sentence of at least 19 months. The couple may face deportation to their respective countries of Italy and Albania following the completion of their sentences.
COMMENT: At a previous court hearing, defense attorneys in response to Judge Nick Holowka’s comment, “We always write guilty on the board before the jury comes in”, sought to have the judge removed from the case claiming “I believe it was implied or a comment on the defendant’s innocence”. The motion was denied and the judge later said, the defense had “misconstrued” the statement. We agree with the ruling and think the defense motion was silly. The comment was clearly made in jest and we find occasional humor to be refreshing, in the same way we found FBI Director James Comey’s remarks about marijuana refreshing. Some levity is needed during court proceedings and lawyers occasionally need to lighten up. We realize that there are occasions when a judge is improperly biased, and we note that some motions are sometimes “client driven”, however we think this is a case where the motion was not needed.