Opening statements Thursday in pit bull mauling of boy

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Jury selection wrapped up Wednesday and opening statements are expected to begin Thursday in a trial for a Detroit man whose pack of pit bulls mauled a 4-year-old boy to death last year.

Geneke Antonio Lyons, 42, is to be tried before Wayne County Circuit Court Judge James Callahan.

Xavier Strickland died after being bitten about 90 times during the Dec. 2 attack by four pit bulls that snatched him from his mom, Lucillie Strickland. Xavier and Strickland were walking near the Lodge Freeway and Baylis on Detroit’s west side when the dogs dragged the boy back to their backyard and mauled him.

Lyons is charged with second degree murder, involuntary manslaughter and possessing dangerous animals causing death.

Graphic pictures and video of the horrific attack are expected to be shown to jurors. The video is from a security camera at Lyons’ home.

A jury of mostly women was seated after two days of questioning by prosecutors and defense attorneys. The Wayne County residents brought in to possibly serve on the panel were asked how they felt about pit bulls, whether they are afraid of dogs and about responsible dog ownership. Prospective jurors also were asked if they could emotionally withstand looking at the graphic photos and video of the attack.

During the preliminary for Lyons in January, Strickland testified about the terrifying attack on her young son.

“I had him in my arms, (and) the dogs snatched him from me and drug him from me to the fence,” she said. “They pulled him, took him from me and pulled him under the fence. They started biting and eating my son. I started screaming, ‘Help, help, help!’ ”

Strickland told how her child begged for help, saying “Help me, ma. ... Help me, ma.” Once the dogs got Xavier inside the fence, Strickland ran for help and came back with another neighbor and started looking for her son.

“We couldn’t see him,” she said. “The dogs were surrounding him.”

Xavier died at Henry Ford Hospital of abdominal injuries.

Detroit Police Detective Antonio Carlisi testified the fencing where the dogs were kept had gaps in it, sometimes up to nine inches, that allowed the dogs to get out.

Lyons’ defense attorney, Francisco Villarruel, said at at the preliminary hearing that his client is being overcharged. He maintained there was no evidence Lyons showed wanton or willful disregard to cause the death of the child. He said his client kept the dogs well fed, maintained and in a secured area bounded by double and sometimes triple fencing.

“(Lyons) did not intend for this to happen,” he said. “It was an accident.”

Callahan said the trial is expected to last less than a week. He also has maintained his gag order on the case saying “we don’t want (the case) tried in the newspapers. It’s tried in the courtroom not in the (newspaper).”

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