Pit bull's owner faces charges in son's death

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman says this case will send a message to the community.

Zachary King Sr.

Zachary King Sr. said Wednesday that the dog was a family pet and that he got the animal for family protection because he travels a lot.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Zachary King Sr. sat on the front steps of his north Minneapolis home Wednesday, slowly twirling a gold necklace with son Zack Jr.'s picture on it.

The gift came from a cousin who attended Zack's funeral days after a family pit bull, chained to a pole in their basement, killed the boy on Aug. 16. It has only been recently that King, his wife and three young daughters could handle a return home.

King, 30, said the tragedy made his family stronger, but the news that he is going to be charged with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the 7-year-old's death brought him to tears.

"I just lost my only son," he said. "Are they saying I tried to kill him?"

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said the pit bull had previously attacked Zach Jr. and two adults, and a "heightened responsibility comes with owning an animal that has vicious tendencies." If he is convicted, sentencing guidelines call for King to be put on probation. He could get up to 10 years in prison, although that's highly unlikely.

Given the possible sentence, Freeman was asked whether he was trying to put the community on notice by charging the father.

"We prosecute a lot of cases when the person isn't necessarily going to prison," Freeman said. "There's no question this case is about sending a message."

Freeman added that not only are fatal dog bites rare, but that prosecuting the owners for felonies in such cases is even more unusual.

In the past three years, however, at least three cases of dogs killing children in the United States have led to manslaughter charges against the parents.

The criminal complaint said that King, "knowing his dog had a vicious propensity, failed to properly confine his dog and such failure caused the death" of his son. Pit bulls and children don't mix, Freeman said.

'A freak accident'

At his home, a distraught King said that Face, the 4-year old pit bull that killed his son, was a family pet he raised from a puppy. He bought the dog for protection because he is frequently out of town on business as a music producer.

"My son was always playing with the dog," he said. "This was just a freak accident that happened to us."

The complaint against King said his son died from blood loss and asphyxia from dog bites on his neck. The clamping force also fractured one of Zach's vertebrae.

King told police he had friends over to his house in the 3500 block of Humboldt Avenue N. the night before his son died. Face was chained in the basement because King feared the dog would bite his guests, the complaint said.

King slept in, and his wife went to work, giving all of his children "the run of the house," the complaint said. Several pit bull puppies from a recent litter were in the basement, which relatives speculated was the reason why Zach Jr. went there.

One of King's daughters alerted him that her brother had been attacked. He attempted to help his son, but Face bit his arm. King then got a handgun and killed the dog.

"I didn't want it to hurt any of my other children," he said.

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Zachary King Sr.