Homicide For Sure and a Cover-Up Too

On January 5, 2019, a man was killed in South Philadelphia for asking someone to put a leash on his dog. (See the article in the Inquirer at Philly.com.)

Drew Justice was taking a walk with his fiance and his shih tzu dog when they came across Matthew Thomas Oropeza, 24. The latter had his “dog” off leash. When Justice asked that the dog be leashed, Oropeza punched Justice in the face, and within an hour he was pronounced dead as a result of “blunt force trauma.” It turns out that Oropeza has multiple convictions for fighting.

As interesting and ugly as the story is, there’s something else that stands out to me. None of the articles about this incident identify the type of dog that Oropeza allowed to go off leash. An article in the New York Post quotes a neighbor as saying, “you don’t know at that moment if the dog is going to turn. I’ve always said that one day they going to bite these children.” The Post article mentions the “recent tension over safety issues” but does not say what breed the killer had with him.

Shall we make an educated guess? To do so, we can use statistics like the oddsmakers in Las Vegas. The owners of what breed of dog are statistically associated with fighting, assaults, violence, criminal behavior and criminal convictions? The answer is contained in “Personality and Behavioral Characteristics of Owners of Vicious Breeds of Dog,” an article which summarizes the body of research about the owners of “high-risk” breeds.

The studies are unanimous: there is a link between violent behavior and ownership of high-risk dog breeds. I can’t tell you exactly which high-risk breed Matthew Thomas Oropeza was walking on Saturday night, but I would bet it was the worst of the bunch: a pit bull. When I find out (as I always do), I will post the answer here.

Update (January 11, 2019)

Yes, it was a pit bull. Watch a witness say so on the Channel 10 NBC News segment

Should Oropeza be prosecuted for murder?

At the Dog Bite Law page on Facebook, there is an ongoing discussion about whether Oropeza should be prosecuted for murder as opposed to a lesser crime. (Click the link in the prior sentence to join the group!) He has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, simple assault, terroristic threats, and other lesser counts.

There are degrees of homicide based on the amount of evil involved, which is measured by how much thought went into the killing or how it was done or who the victim was. Generally speaking, there are three degrees: the first degree is when the killer plans it ahead of time, the second degree is when the killer does something that consciously ignores the risk of death, and the third degree is when the killing is essentially accidental but also worse than a common accident. Additionally, the degree of homicide is determined by what the perpetrator was doing at the time of the killing, such as committing a crime or doing something inherently dangerous but not criminal. 

In this case, Oropeza happens to be a confirmed criminal who was in the process of breaking the law by allowing his dog to be unleashed. He had two previous arrests for fighting, in 2013 to which he pleaded guilty, and 2016 which landed him in a diversionary program ending in dismissal of the criminal charge for fighting. 

The prosecutor has charged Oropeza with manslaughter, which is third degree homicide. I disagree with that decision. It is a close call but I feel that this killing should be classified as second degree murder because the perpetrator had been previously convicted of the same thing, obviously should have been aware of the harm he could inflict on another human being, and was in the process of endangering his neighbors by allowing his pit bull to roam unleashed, which was the direct cause of this incident.