Cockfighting trial date set

A federal judge Wednesday set April 29 as the start day for criminal trials in a large ongoing state and federal cockfighting investigation.

The probe targets an alleged cockfighting group that had one of its main gaming sites in the Swansea area of Lexington County.

Wednesday, Judge Cameron Currie in Columbia indicated the trial will begin even though some legal issues remain unresolved.

Defense lawyers argued the offenses didn't involve interstate commerce - an essential element for the case to be tried in federal court. Currie said she wanted more information on the issue.

Defense attorney Lionel Lofton also argued the government is discriminating against white South Carolinians by trying them under tough federal felony laws that carry stiff prison sentences. Lofton told Currie that in 2009, in Hampton County, 37 Hispanics were arrested on cockfighting charges. Each was allowed to plead guilty in magistrate's court to misdemeanor violations, he said.

Currie told Lofton he could have more time "to look into this."

- John Monk