The defence in the dog mauling trial has raised questions over bite marks on the victim, with a dog trainer admitting during cross-examination that his testimony was based on photographs alone and he never examined the defendant’s Rotties.
The criminal trial in the homicide case resumed on Friday with dog trainer Christos Theodosiou taking the stand. Another canine expert and dog trainer, Alexis Papaioannou, also attended the hearing on behalf of the defence.
A 28-year-old defendant is facing homicide and criminal negligence charges in the death of Petruna Milchova Nikolova, a 46-year-old Bulgarian national who was found fatally injured in a rural field in Yeroskipou, Paphos district, on 22 February 2018.
Officials initially said they were dealing with a death resulting from multiple injuries possibly caused by farming equipment. Subsequent autopsies pointed to dog bites after police investigators said they were tipped off about two Rottweiler dogs from the area that might have mauled the victim to death.
On Friday, Theodosiou was cross-examined by defence attorney Elias Staphanou, who pointed out the witness had testified as an expert based solely on photographs that had been shown to him. The witness said he believed based on the photos that Nikolova was attacked by at least two dogs or a pack.
The witness clarified he had not examined any dog in the case but simply gave answers to hypothetical questions by police investigators
The witness told the court that a dog, which has been involved in a fatal attack of a human being, would show aggression if someone approaches their crate and extends their arm.
But the dog expert who was present at the hearing pointed out that this would not be the only way to test the behaviour of a dog in question, saying it would be better to visit the location and see the environment and the dog. The expert also added that at least two different behaviours are necessary, one with aggression and another non-aggressive approach, if one is to try and ascertain the character of a dog.
Theodosiou agreed with the defence that dogs are very apprehensive about their space, including a crate or a more general area if they are allowed to roam in it. The witness also reiterated that dogs must be socialized if they are to be non dangerous, such as taken out for walks, seeing people, going to the beach, and seeing plenty of different of images.
The defence attorney then posed to the witness the position that the defendant’s dogs were socialized on the basis they were seeing many visitors every day who would come to his client’s place.
The witness then did not rule out the possibility that a stray dog might have caused the injuries, with Stephanou closing and pointing out that Theodosiou was unable to definitively say whether all injuries had been caused by dogs.
It was also pointed out in court that Theodosiou did not have a valid permit as a dog trainer, with the witness saying that he had a health issue and was unable to renew it. He also clarified that he had not examined any dog in the case but simply gave answers to hypothetical questions, in a deposition in October 2018, as to how dogs might react in certain situations.
The defendant, who pleaded not guilty to manslaughter charges, remains free on a €100,000 bail and has surrendered his passport and identification documents. He is also required to report to a police station every day while his dogs, despite not belonging to a dangerous breed, must wear a dog mouthpiece and remain on leash, according to the bail terms.
The case has been controversial from the very beginning, with some experts and media criticising crime investigators and state pathologists after a total of five autopsies during the initial stages of the investigation.
The next hearing has been set for June 7, when the defence will continue to cross-examine the witness.