Convicted dog breeder David Tant gets his chance at parole Wednesday after coming within one vote of gaining his freedom in July.
Both sides are gearing up for the hearing, with supporters saying Tant has paid his debt after serving six years of a 30-year sentence, and animal rights activists contending early release would send the wrong message in the violent world of dog fighting.
"Mr. Tant is very remorseful for any pain he's caused anyone," said friend and supporter Harriett Grady-Thomas. "He does not plan on owning dogs or any pets of any kind."
A committee of the Probation, Parole and Pardon Services Board voted 2-1 in July in favor of his release. Because the count was not unanimous, Tant's case goes to a full board hearing Wednesday morning in Columbia.
Charles Karesh, of the state's anti-dog-fighting task force and also a member of the Charleston Animal Society, said a different angle his group will pursue this time is in addressing whether the amount of Tant's time served matches the gravity of the offense.
The parole board usually sees drug, robbery or other offenses, he said, and the severity and effects of dog fighting might be new to the members.
Tant, 63, pleaded guilty in November 2004 to more than 40 counts of illegally breeding fighting dogs. Another count covered an assault charge when a surveyor was wounded by a booby trap that went off after he wandered onto Tant's property in southern Charleston County.
At one time Tant was ranked as the No. 2 breeder of fighting pit bulls, authorities have said. A variety of implements used in the dog-fighting world also were seized.
The forces opposed to Tant's release have hired Charleston attorney Dwayne Green, a former member of the parole board, to help in presenting their case. Green "understands the parole process," Karesh said. Attorney General Henry McMaster opposes Tant's parole and will address the board.
At his first hearing Tant, 63, told the board he is a changed man. He spoke of reading the Bible daily and wanting to return to Charleston to nurse sick and ailing members of his family.
His attorney, retiring state lawmaker Doug Jennings of Bennettsville, also said the sentence appears to be the strongest of its kind in the country and that during his legal research he could find no one else in the U.S. serving as much time in prison for a dog-fighting conviction.
If Tant's parole is declined, he can ask for parole again in one year. After his guilty plea Tant paid more than $80,000 in restitution, largely to cover the cost of boarding the more than 40 of his dogs that were seized. All eventually had to be destroyed because they were deemed too violent to adopt.