Judge Recuses Himself in Animal Cruelty Bond Reduction Hearing

Activist says he has received hateful calls, emails over case

A man accused of lighting a puppy on fire will remain in jail on $100,000 bond for now.

Darius Ewing's attorneys planned to ask for a reduction in his bond during a Thursday hearing, but Judge Rick Manis recused himself because he said he had prior knowledge of the case.

Manis said the case would be assigned to a different judge.

Meanwhile, an activist who has been pushing for Ewing's bond to be reduced said he has become the target of hateful calls and emails.

The Rev. Ronald Wright, executive director of Justice Seekers Texas, played one voice mail for NBC 5.

"I do not believe you have the balls to make it a black-and-white issue," the female caller said. "I am a very open person, but I will call you the n-word right now, because that's what you are -- a [racial slur]."

Wright also said his dog was killed last week. He said he believes his dog was poisoned because of the controversy.

"It hurts my heart," he said. "That's not going to stop me continue to fight for justice. We live in a country that says you're innocent until proven guilty."

Jim Wenger, executive director of DFW Rescue Me, the volunteer group that cared for the dog until transferring him to Texas A&M Small Animal Hospital, said the case is not a racial matter.

“This being racial, the craziness about an animal advocate poisoning a dog -- that’s not going to happen," he said. "That’s all clouding the facts."

Ewing is accused of dousing a 4-month-old Labrador-terrier mix that volunteers later named Justice with lighter fluid. Witnesses told police he set the puppy on fire with a cigarette as other teenagers looked on and laughed.

The dog died 10 days later from complications of third-degree burns on 70 percent of his body.

Ewing turned himself in to police last month.

Kesha Hood, Ewing's mother, said her son has an alibi.

"My mom and stepdad say he was in Cedarville at the time of the incident for the whole week," she said. "He didn't do this. Until he's proven otherwise, I'm going to stand by and support my son all the way."

Wright has said that the case shows that dogs are more important than black men.

"Women and dogs are even when it comes to getting bail," he said.

"We're not defending his character," Wright said. "We're saying, 'Make sure you got the right guy. Whoever did this to the dog deserves to be prosecuted."

Animal lovers said they were surprised by the judge's recusal but believe Ewing needs to be behind bars.

"We just want to show our support for the bond being set as high as it is," Wenger said. "It is reasonable. I believe we have an obligation to stand up for people and animals that cannot stand up for themselves and don't have a voice, and that's what we’re doing."

If convicted of felony animal cruelty, Ewing would face up to 10 years in prison.

NBC 5's Ray Villeda contributed to this report.

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