Kick ass carl Hiaasen

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The mysterious death of Claude, the sheep dog

February 6, 1987

Last summer, Miami lawyer Frank Furci shot and killed a neighbor's dog during an afternoon stroll.

It happened Aug. 8 in an affluent subdivision of Plantation. Furci was walking his Doberman Ginger, when he encountered Claude, a 73-pound French sheep dog with allergies.

Seconds later, for reasons still not clear, Furci pulled a .45-caliber handgun and shot Claude through the jugular vein with a low-velocity exploding bullet.

Jan Bongers, the man who was walking Claude, couldn't believe it. According to the police report, "the victim observed the dog crawling on the roadway … with the above [suspect] standing over the dog holding a handgun to the dog's head."

Bongers backed off, he said, when Furci pointed the gun at him.

After Furci went home, Bongers gathered the dying dog in his arms and ran for help. Neighbor Arlene Garren heard Jan shouting: "That guy just shot Claude! I don't believe the crazy bastard shot the dog!"

Bongers raced to a veterinary hospital with Claude comatose in the trunk of the car.

It was a bizarre incident with like repercussions. Furci now is charged with cruelty to animals and aggravated assault with a firearm, a felony for which he could get a mandatory three years—and be disbarred. However, his attorney happens to be his law partner, the one and only Roy Black.

The killing of Claude the sheep dog became a matter so grave that no less than Dr. Ronald K.Wright, Broward's chief medical examiner, performed the postmortem. "God, do I hate autopsying dogs," Dr. Wright testified.

His task was complicated by the fact that Claude had been frozen, and needed to thaw. Still, Wright was able to determine that the fatal shot had been fired with the gun barrel pressed against the dog's fur.

Roy Black said Furci had acted in self-defense, that Claude had attacked first. He suggested that Furci didn't mean to point the gun at Bongers. The Broward State Attorney's Office didn't buy it.

Then Black went to work. He hired a private investigator. He got aerial photos of the crime scene. In 43 separate pleadings and motions, and 17 depositions, he and lawyer Mark Seiden hammered at the character of Claude the sheep dog.

They demanded records of his breeding, birth and pedigree; of any dog shows he'd won; of any previous bites or attacks. Claude's background, they asserted, was "of critical importance in formulating the accused's defense."

Attorney Black noted discrepancies in accounts of Claude's age (somewhere between six and nine years) and exact breed. A police report described the dog as a Bouvier des Flandres while his owner, Olivia Gluckson, said he was a Briard.

The age was important because of the prosecution's contention that an older dog was less likely to attack. The breed was significant, Black explained, because while Briards might be gentle, "the characteristics of a Bouvier des Flandres, on the other hand, could be entirely different."

Unfortunately, Claude was not around to defend his honor. His credentials included work as a professional dog model in magazines.

In a deposition Jan Bongers testified that the sheep dog had approached Ginger "in a very pleasant, playful manner," and that the two dogs had sized each other up the traditional doggy way.

attorney: "Who did the sniffing?"

witness: "Both."

Olivia Gluckson poignantly testified how Claude had rallied briefly at the veterinary hospital; how he had recognized her and even wagged his tail shortly before the end. "You couldn't help but like Claude, he's a very sweet and gentle dog," she said.

Olivia said she phoned Frank Furci and said, "Did you shoot my dog?" She said the lawyer replied, "I don't know you," and hung up.

Furci declined to discuss the shooting. His wife Joan has said she went outside when she heard their dog Ginger make a "loud, loud cry." She said her husband told her the sheep dog had attacked them.

The case was scheduled for trial this week, but postponed. Apparently Roy Black has done his job—there is talk of a deal that would permit Furci to plead no contest to the animal cruelty charge and avoid the three-year felony.

"Disgusting," Jan Bonger says. "A very frightening kind of case," adds Olivia Gluckson, who says her children are still "devastated" by Claude's violent death.

In all the court records there is no explanation for why anyone walking a Doberman in daylight would need a .45-caliber pistol for anything.

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