Dogs Kill: Who's To Blame?

A Little Boy Dies At The Hands Of Three Pets

Jeffrey and Sabine Davidson thought their three dogs, Sammy, Sophie and Ivana, were gentle creatures. But they had a rude awakening one April morning two years ago, when the police knocked on their door in Kansas.

Somehow the Davidsons' three rottweilers had left their backyard. As CBS News Correspondent Richard Schlesinger reports, the Davidsons learned that their dogs could be something more than pets.



On her way to work that morning Carolyn Stevens saw the dogs, tugging at what looked like an animal. Then she realized it was actually a child.

"There was two dogs at his feet and one up somewhere by his head, and they were just kind of pulling back and forth and playing tug of war," she said.

The object of the dogs' attention was 11-year-old Christopher Wilson. He had been dragged 70 feet and killed by the Davidsons' dogs while waiting for the school bus with his brother. Christopher waited for the bus every morning, said his mother Violet, adding that she thought the dogs knew the boy would be there.

While Christopher's father, Brian Wilson, said that he didn't have the sense that these dogs were out of control, Jeffrey Davidson said he had a hard time imagining his dogs as killers.

The United States has about 57 million dogs. The overwhelming majority are loving so it is easy to forget that Sammy, Sophie and Ivana are carnivores, descendants of wolves.

About 800,000 times every year, a dog bites someone seriously enough for the person to require medical attention. Approximately 16 times a year in this country, dogs kill people - mostly children.

After Christopher Wilson's attack, police put to death the Davidson's rottweillers. The couple was charged with unintentional second-degree murder. This was the first time such a serious charge had been filed against a dog owner after an unplanned attack. Twelve years behind bars could result from a conviction.

Christopher Biggs, Geary County, Kansas, prosecutor, claimed the Davidsons had been told before their dogs had become loose, but failed to control them.

"One analogy that's used in the law is, if you fire a gun at a schoolyard and you kill a child, you may not have intended to kill a child, but your conduct is so reckless, we're going to treat it as if you did," Biggs said.

The Davidsons, though, said they didn't train the dogs to attack, noting that they have three children of their own.

Who is then responsible for Christopher Wilson's death? When the boy saw the Davidsons' dogs, he ran. The dogs chased him.

Dogs are genetically wired to chase things, according to Randall Lockwood, who tracks fatal dog attacks for a humane society. "Kids do things that look like what prey do," he said. "Children run and scream - and that is a powerful trigger, a powerful releaser for predatory behavior."

There are dogs genetically wired to have a lower threshold or higher potential for aggression, Lockwood said But he doesn't let humans off the hook either: "Genetics may load the gun, but it is human behavior and - and often human irresponsibility that pulls the trigger."

More and more people are buying dogs with an eye toward using them as weapons, said Lockwood.

"The dogs were simply the instrument of death," said Biggs. "The defendant is the person who is responsible."

While prosecutor Biggs argued that the Davidsons' rotweillers killed 11-year-old Christopher Wilson, Jeffrey Davidson said that there was another group of dogs involved.

The Davidsons had never been in trouble with the law before. Still authorities treated them like heartless criminals, they claimed.

After the coupleÂ's arrest, the Davidson children were temporarily placed in foster care. Jeffrey Davidson lost his job on a military base and started working in a fast-food restaurant. The bank foreclosed on their house. And the couple ended up separating. "We were basically ostracized from the community," Jeffrey Davidson said.

Even before the trial got underway, Jeffrey Davidson plea bargained and received five yearsÂ' probation, on the condition that he wouldn't own dogs. But when Sabine Davidson was offered a deal that included prison time, she chose to go to trial. "She never, ever felt like she did anything wrong," said defense lawyer Ron Hodgson.

On the stand, a passerby testified that she'd seen Jeffrey Davidson train the dogs to be aggressive.

It was ChristopherÂ's brother, Tramell, who provided the most emotional moment. While trying to describe his brother's death, he broke down.

Sabine Davidson's lawyer showed home videos of the rottweilers playing with the DavidsonsÂ' daughter. Sabine Davidson's own testimony might have hurt more than it helped. She admitted that the dogs may have bothered her daughter Ashley.

In the end, the jury found her guilty of unintentional murder in the second degree. Because the verdict was murder, the judge had very little leeway. Sabine Davidson was sentenced to 12 years and two months in prison. She began serving her sentence last month.

"I don't think this whole process helped the Wilsons," said Jeffrey Davidson. "They have somebody to hate. But having someone to hate doesn't bring their child any closer to life."

How does Sabine Davidson feel about serving 12 years in prison? "I think about that my oldest daughter will be 20 [after 12 years], my middle daughter will be 15 and my youngest one will be 13. That's basically what I think about," she said.

Christopher Wilson's mother Violet had no pity, though: "Why should I feel sorry for her?" she asked. "She will still be able to see her kids. She will be able to hug them and kiss them, and we won't ever do that with Christopher."

Today, two years after his death, the Wilsons keep Christopher's ashes in an urn in their bedroom. "The case we can put behind us," Violet said Christopher, we never can. It was always about Christopher."