ASK Commentary
March 22, 2002 

Husband and Wife Found Guilty

A jury found a husband and wife guilty of 2nd degree murder and manslaughter yesterday in a case that has direct antecedents in Old Testament Law. The case involved two 120-pound dogs who attacked and killed a 31 year-old San Francisco woman on January 26, 2001 in the hallway of her apartment building. The woman owner of the dogs was unable to save the victim even though she tried to pull the dogs off from the attack. Testimony from 30 witnesses convinced the jury that the owners of the dogs knew that the dogs were aggressive and dangerous. Furthermore, that breed of dog is specifically bred to be aggressive. The dogs were destroyed. In the Bible the owner of domestic animals is held responsible for the actions of his animal. The biblical example is of oxen, but it is applicable to any domestic animal,

Exodus 21:28 “If an ox gore a man or a woman, that they die: then the ox shall be surely stoned, and his flesh shall not be eaten; but the owner of the ox shall be quit.”

This is, of course, right and proper for the animal to die. It is clearly a danger to people if it does kills once. Note that the “owner of the ox shall be quit.” The word “quit” here means to be acquitted of responsibility. However, note verse 29,

“But if the ox were wont to push with his horn in time past, and it hath been testified to his owner, and he hath not kept him in, but that he hath killed a man or a woman; the ox shall be stoned, and his owner also shall be put to death.”

This situation is similar to the San Francisco dog-mauling case. The owners were aware in numerous instances that the animals were dangerous. In one instance the dogs lunged and tried to attack a pregnant woman. In another the dogs snapped at a 6-year-old child. Both escaped injury. The woman was convicted of murder in the 2nd degree and manslaughter. (She was present at the time of the attack and tried to pull off the dogs). Her husband was convicted of manslaughter. The biblical judgment allows for ransom from the death penalty, which can be allowed if the relatives of the victim agree to a payment of money. It makes no difference if the victim was a child. Exodus 21:30-31,

“If there be laid on him a sum of money, then he shall give for the ransom of his life whatsoever is laid upon him. Whether he have gored a son, or have gored a daughter, according to this judgment shall it be done unto him.”

The judgment was less if a servant was gored. Exodus 21:32,

“If the ox shall push a manservant or a maidservant; he shall give unto their master thirty shekels of silver, and the ox shall be stoned.”

If one animal kills another, the judgment is also appropriate. Exodus 21:35,

“And if one man’s ox hurt another’s, that he die; then they shall sell the live ox, and divide the money of it; and the dead ox also they shall divide.”

Many legal matters have precedents in ancient laws and judgments, which in many cases are similar to those in our own legal systems. The Bible covers most instances of human relations. As cultures and situations change, the judgments change, but not all that much. The jury decided wisely according to the biblical principles. 

David Sielaff
Ramona Martin/ASK

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