A Lowcountry man described by animal welfare activists as a kingpin in the dogfighting industry will get a second chance for parole after a three-member state panel split on whether to release him from prison.
David Ray Tant, 63, persuaded two of the three members at a hearing Wednesday that he should go free. He has served less than six years of an unprecedented 40-year sentence for dogfighting and assault. But because the parole panel’s decision must be unanimous, the case now will be heard before the full parole board, likely in the next two months.
Tant’s attorney, Doug Jennings, said the news is encouraging because two members of the parole panel seemed to understand the inmate has been a model prisoner. If the vote had been unanimous against Tant, he would not have been eligible for a parole hearing until next summer.
“I have to be encouraged,’’ said Jennings, a state House member from the Pee Dee. “Obviously, from today’s proceeding, there are some who are looking at the facts of his case and believe he’s done enough time and paid the penalty and deserves parole.’’
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Animal welfare activists were disappointed that Tant’s parole was not denied Wednesday, but said they won’t quit in their attempts to keep him in prison.
Those appearing at the hearing included Randy Lockwood, a senior vice president with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, as well as local groups and state Attorney General Henry McMaster.
In breeding dogs for fighting, Tant’s influence on the blood sport was pervasive nationally – and he could get involved again, animal welfare activists said. Evidence shows people involved in dogfighting often return to the sport after serving time, Lockwood said. Lockwood said he flew to Columbia from Washington because McMaster’s prosecution of Tant was one of the most significant in the nation.
“David Tant was a manufacturer of assassins --- assassin pit bulls that were trained to fight and kill,’’ said Charlie Karesh, a board member with the Charleston Animal Society and member of the state’s anti dogfighting task force.
Attorney General Henry McMaster, who appeared at the parole board meeting, agreed that Tant needs to stay in jail. McMaster’s office prosecuted Tant.
“He was one of the largest breeders of pit bulls in the United States,’’ McMaster said, adding that “to let him out now, I believe would be a miscarriage of justice. He should serve that sentence. He earned it.’’
Tant, of North Charleston, has been in prison since pleading guilty to 41 dogfighting charges and an assault charge in November 2004. The 40 years he received are believed to make up the stiffest in state history, if not nationally, on dog-fighting and related charges.
He was arrested after authorities raided his property in Charleston County and seized more than 40 dogs they said were being bred and trained for fighting. The dogs were housed at a local animal shelter after the raid, but later euthanized because they were considered too vicious to adopt out. He has paid $82,000 in restitution --- the cost of housing the seized dogs --- to reduce his sentence to 30 years.
McMaster decribed Tant’s property near Ravenel as “like a chamber of horrors.’’ Dogs were being run on treadmills for hours, then hit with cattle prods when they slowed down – all part of the training regimen for fighting pit bulls, McMaster said.
Tant said Wednesday he has learned his lesson and won’t be a threat to the public if released from prison. He said he’s become religious during his six years in prison and won’t involve himself in dog-fighting.
“There’s a great contrast between the man you see before you right now and the man I was six years ago,’’ Tant told the parole panel via video conference from prison. “I have much humility and remorse for my past. That life is behind me now. That man of six years ago is dead and gone, never to live again.’’’
Tant told The State newspaper in 2004 that he did not condone dogfighting and did not raise dogs for that purpose. At the time, state prosecutors said Tant was the nation’s No. 2 breeder of pit bulls, the primary animal used in dogfights. In the mid-1990s, he placed ads in a national magazine that authorities said catered to dogfighters. The ads sought to sell pit bulls he had bred.
In a separate matter, Tant has also appealed his sentence to the S.C. Court of Appeals. His lawyers say there was confusion over whether he was actually sentenced to 40 years.