August 1, 2014 at 5:02 pm

Couple charged with murder agree to have 3 dogs destroyed

Lapeer — A Metamora couple was charged Friday with second-degree murder after two of their dogs chased down and killed a Livonia jogger. The dogs will be destroyed.

Sebastiano Quagliata, 45, and Valbona Lucaj, 44, were also charged in Lapeer 71-A District Court with possession of a dangerous animal. Two of the couple’s Cane Corsos attacked Craig Sytsma, 46, who worked in the area near the mauling.

Magistrate Michael Delling agreed Quagliata and Lucaj were flight risks and remanded them to the Lapeer County Jail in lieu of $500,00 cash surety bond each.

“Second-degree murder is punishable by up to life and there is a risk of flight and some question to their legal status,” Delling said.

Assistant prosecutor Michael D. Hodges had asked for a $1 million bond for each while the couple’s defense attorneys had sought personal bond and GPS tether because they have strong ties to the community, posed no risk and have no criminal history.

“This is a case of people being grossly overcharged,” said Jason Malkiewicz, Quagliata’s attorney. “If they are murderers then the prosecutor should be charging the county animal control office. They had an opportunity in November if they thought these dogs were dangerous. They cited them for allowing an animal to run loose.”

He noted his client’s wife, Lucaj, wasn’t even in Michigan when the incident occurred.

“She was in Massachusetts,” he said. “How do you get charged in a death when you aren’t even in the same state?”

Malkiewicz said the dogs were normally kept in a locked, fenced kennel and he doesn’t know how they got out.

The couple are Albanians who have been living in the Metamora area for 20 years on green cards, their attorneys told Delling. Quagliata, who was arrested Thursday at work, is a painter and was still dressed in paint-spattered work clothes. Lucaj, who surrendered to police Thursday night, is employed by an insurance company. Their three children — ages 7, 12 and 15 — were being cared for by relatives, Hodges said.

“It’s a horrible tragedy ... but animal cases get a lot of attention,” Hodges said outside the courtroom.

Malkiewicz said supporters in court included the couple’s three children, and several aunts and uncles. All left the building without comment.

“This couple surrendered to authorities. They have green cards but have applied for citizenship. They work, pay taxes. All their children have been born here. They aren’t flight risks.”

The two dogs, and a third reportedly involved in another incident, and eight puppies have been seized by county animal control and are in quarantine.

Hodges said there is an agreement with the couple’s attorneys to permit immediately destroying the three adult dogs but spare seven 8-week-old puppies and a 4-month-old puppy and try to place them with a rescue organization.

Delling ordered the pair’s next court appearance for Aug. 8 before Judge Laura Barnard.

So far, $8,481 has been raised for Sytsma family as of Friday afternoon. The goal is $15,000. The website to donate can be found here.

“Craig Sytsma was a 46-year-old colon cancer survivor who was known for his hard work and dedication to his everyday life,” a biography on the website said. “Craig was also a father of three loving children; Luis, Jordan and Tyra. He was a wonderful role model, companion & father to all 3 of his children. Not only will they miss their father’s guidance & physical presence, but also all the support and encouragement he provided to them.”

mmartindale@detroitnews.com
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Sebastian Qualgliata, 45, of Metamora is arraigned before Magistrate Michael Delling at 71-A District Court in Lapeer on Friday. / John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News
Valbona Lucaj, 44, of Metamora is also arraigned before Magistrate Michael ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
People in the courtroom were emotional when Sebastian Qualgliata and ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
Assistant Prosecutor Michael D. Hodges speaks to reporters at 71-A ... (John M. Galloway / Special to The Detroit News)
One of the two cane corsos that mauled to death jogger (Craig Sytsma)