Attorneys defending the Canyon Lake couple charged with negligence in the mauling death of an elderly neighborhood resident by dogs in 2013 took aim at Comal County Sheriff’s investigators on Thursday.
The third day of the trial of Peter Scott Lucas, 54, and wife Rachelle Kay Lucas, 52, focused on the roles CCSO investigators played during and after 75-year-old Betty Clark was attacked by dogs on Dec. 21, 2013 and died in a San Antonio hospital 16 days later.
The Lucases have pleaded not guilty to charges of attack by a dog resulting in Clark’s death, and are being tried together before 433rd District Court Judge Dib Waldrip. Their attorneys, Deborah Wigington and Tommy Vaughn, railed against CCSO officers who they believe botched the investigation from the start.
Thursday’s testimony began with Scott Lange, a former Comal County Sheriff’s Office deputy, who on Wednesday testified he and CCSO Sgt. Juan Leyba took photos inside and outside of the fence surrounding the Lucases’ residence, where they believed the two dogs returned after attacking Clark in a nearby vacant lot at the intersection of Deer Valley and Overhill streets in Canyon Lake.
Photos that illustrated a freshly-dug path under an already-upturned fence bottom that night – displayed a cinder block used to weigh down the fence lining had been pushed aside, exposing bloodied areas at the bottom rungs of the fence.
Wigington and Vaughn’s questioning of Lange and fellow CCSO deputy Chris Gerhardt early Thursday intensified after the jury saw photos taken of Clark’s bitten, battered and bloodied body following the first of several surgeries at San Antonio’s University Hospital.
The photos, taken by former CCSO investigator Keith Wilson, displayed bite wounds – some down to bone – on Clark’s right arm and leg. Shown unconscious and on a respirator, Clark was lying on a gurney and from the waist up in a pool of her own blood after hundreds of stitches to close wounds on her head and face.
Wigington asked Wilson if he or anyone at CCSO had any experience with dog attack cases, to which Wilson, and later detectives Frank Cockrell and Anthony Moreno, admitted was a first for the department.
Wigington questioned why Clark’s clothes weren’t saved into evidence and why DNA swabs weren’t taken of Clark’s wounds as photos were taken of her in hospital bed. She also questioned why, after Moreno assumed the case on Dec. 23, he didn’t get around to interviewing neighbors until Dec. 26, and why it took a day later for Cockrell to swab DNA from the two dogs allegedly responsible in the attack.
Wigington said euthanizing the dogs days later killed off critical evidence, such as the dogs’ stomach contents, and inferred – against objections by prosecutors Jessica Frazier and Kiera Kilday – the CCSO’s collection of DNA from the dogs, and blood from Clark collected after her death, could have been contaminated on its way to Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab in Austin.
Moreno’s testimony lasted into the evening, delaying the DPS lab investigator’s reveal of DNA results in the case. She will be heard when testimony resumes in the case at 8:30 a.m. Friday.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys expect the guilt or innocence of the trial could extend into next week. A guilty verdict on the second-degree felony is punishable by between two and 20 years in prison and fine of up to $10,000.