Trial starts in dog-bite case

GREENFIELD — Two pit bulls that ran loose through a Greenfield neighborhood last year and attacked two people left scars both emotional and physical, witnesses said Tuesday in Hancock Circuit Court.

Twelve people were called to testify in the first day of the trial of Karla Johnson, a former Greenfield resident who was charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor following a dog attack in her neighborhood last year.

Johnson, owner of two pit bulls police said they believe bit a neighbor boy and an 82-year-old woman, is standing trial this week to determine if she is responsible for the dogs’ actions. Johnson faces a misdemeanor dog-bite liability charge and two Class D felonies, criminal recklessness causing serious bodily injury and obstruction of justice.

Johnson’s defense appears to focus on disproving the obstruction of justice charge, which was filed amid allegations Johnson hid one of the dogs responsible when police came to question her. Her attorney, Randy Sorrell of Fortville, said during opening statements Tuesday that Johnson cooperated with police, who asked if she had any white dogs. Johnson brought two white dogs to the door but left behind a third because she said he was white with brown spots.

Prosecutors contend the phrasing doesn’t matter, and they have assembled a line of witnesses who say they saw a white dog with brown spots attack a 7-year-old boy April 9, 2014, and an 82-year-old woman three days later on April 12.

Seven jurors — four woman, two men and one alternate — heard testimony from Thelma Spencer, the 82-year-old victim; two family members who witnessed the attack of 7-year-old victim Jesse Hawkins; first-responders and a number of neighbors who saw Johnson out looking for her runaway dogs.

Each of the 12 witnesses called to the stand Tuesday was shown a picture of Roscoe — Johnson’s male pit bull with brown and white coloring — and asked if it was the dog they saw. Witnesses varied in their degree of certainty as to whether Roscoe was the dog responsible for the attacks.

Perhaps the most certain were Spencer, who recounted her attack in vivid detail for the jury, and relatives of Jesse Hawkins, who were there when he was bitten.

Melissa and Nicole Hawkins, Jesse’s mother and sister, respectively, said they were dropping the 7-year-old off to play at a friend’s house when the dog ran up and pulled him to the ground, biting his arms and face.

Melissa Hawkins said she rushed to her son’s aid and kicked the dog, which ran off for a moment. Nicole Hawkins said she jumped from the car moments later and saw the dog advancing again toward her mother and brother. Nicole Hawkins said she shouted at the animal, which took off again.

Jesse Hawkins was rushed to Riley Hospital for Children, where he received 50 stitches in his arm and five on his face.

His mother told the jury through tears that her son — now 9 — is still afraid to be near dogs and won’t play outside alone.

The defense asked for photographs of the victims’ bites be kept from the jury, citing their graphic nature.

Prosecutors expect to rest their case today. Johnson’s attorney will then present evidence in her defense. He is expected to call two witnesses.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or