|Who, age||What||Where||When||Last Known Address|
|Benjamin Garcia, 24||cockfighting - 25 birds seized||
|July 31, 2005|
|Type of Crime||Other Crimes||#/Type of animal(s) involved||Case Status||Next Court Date /Courthouse|
|Felony||illegal gambling||25 birds||Convicted||252nd State District Court|
A Groves man indicted on animal cruelty charges related to rooster fighting will be sentenced after agreeing to a last-chance plea deal with prosecutors.
Groves Deputy Marshal John Rabalais testified in a bench trial, he watched 26-year-old Benjamin Garcia force 2 roosters to fight on a Groves roadside lot in July 2005.
Garcia, now 26, will serve 2 years' probation if he is sentenced according to his plea arrangement. Animal cruelty, a state jail felony, carries a punishment range of up to 2 years in state jail.
After about 4 hours of testimony that produced a guilty verdict from 252nd state District Judge Layne Walker, defense attorney Stella Morrison announced she had made a deal with prosecutor Pat Knauth about punishment.
Knauth protested, telling Morrison she must have misunderstood him. He said the plea offer was only good if entered before a verdict was returned.
A conference among the judge and the attorneys resulted in Walker withdrawing his guilty finding and Garcia being allowed to sign a confession and enter the plea agreement.
Walker, in the following plea proceeding, called the case "a swearing match" between Garcia and the deputy marshal, the prosecution's only witness.
Rabalais testified he was dispatched to the 1900 block of Orange Acres about 6:30 p.m. July 31st in reference to a group of men fighting roosters.
While waiting for more officers, Rabalais told the judge he saw a group of men standing amid trucks and chicken cages watching 2 birds fight. Garcia, Rabalais said, picked up a rooster and threw it on another rooster, goading the birds to attack each other.
When he and other officers confronted the group, Garcia initially denied the men were fighting the birds, Rabalais said. But Garcia then said that they were not fighting them "to the death," but only training them for more serious bouts in Louisiana, the deputy marshal testified.
Garcia, through an interpreter, denied making the statement to Rabalais, contending he only spoke Spanish and did not say anything in English to Rabalais, who is bilingual.
Rabalais testified he was certain the man was able to speak English and that Garcia answered numerous questions in English at the roadside and at the Groves police station.
Garcia testified he had only been at the lot about 15 minutes when police arrived and was there because a friend had asked him to help feed the birds.
Evidence presented included photographs taken at the site of wounded birds, vitamins apparently given to the birds and leather balls sometimes used to train fighting roosters.
Rabalais said when the birds are fought for betting purposes, small blades are often tied to their lower legs or feet. In training, he said, the leather balls are tied in place of the blades to accustom the birds to having something attached there.
Rabalais said about 25 chickens, including roosters and hens, were seized from the location.
In closing arguments, Morrison called the charges against Garcia "a case of mistaken identity," suggesting Rabalais confused her client with one of the other men arrested at the lot.
Morrison said charges against the other men arrested with Garcia were refused by the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office.
Knauth could not confirm Morrison's contention but said it would be difficult to develop charges against them because Rabalais had only seen Garcia encourage the birds to fight.
Louisiana, the last state where rooster fighting is legal, passed legislation that will become effective in August 2008 outlawing the practice.
Garcia received 2 years' probation in October 2007 after pleading guilty to felony animal cruelty charges for rooster fighting.
Reference: Beaumont Enterprise