A woman whose husband ran a dogfighting enterprise out of their West Brandywine Township home was sentenced to 23 months in prison Monday by a judge who said she failed to shield her children from the carnage.
Laura Acompora's youngest child, who is now 3, is still terrorized by what he saw before police shut down the operation last December, Chester County Assistant District Attorney Priya DeSouzza said. The child, one of three who lived in the home, has memories of seeing a dog stomped to death by a group of men and a pit bull eating another dog, DeSouzza said.
"I would imagine any child that was in that house and heard those sounds would have nightmares," County Court Senior Judge Thomas Gavin said before handing down the sentence.
Acompora, 34, will be eligible for parole in about 51/2 months under Gavin's sentence. She served 10 months before being released in October, when she pleaded guilty to five counts, including cruelty to animals and endangering the welfare of a child. She will also be on probation for 10 years.
Her husband, Shane Santiago, 34, has also pleaded guilty in the case and is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 17. He, unlike his wife, has a criminal history and is facing a longer sentence.
Officials have said that Santiago was the ringleader, but that Acompora was also culpable.
County Detective Matt Gordon said that when officers searched the residence last December, they found syringes, antibiotics, and a medical stapler, which Santiago later admitted using to tend to the dogs' wounds. Bloody carpet was rolled up in the yard, near planks used to build a 15- by 15-foot fighting ring. In a garbage can, a dead newborn puppy was stuffed into a white trash bag, he said.
Electrical cables were found in the blood-splattered basement. Gordon said he asked Santiago what they were for.
"They would hook one end to an electrical source, the other to the dog. And they would kill it," Gordon said.
Acompora's attorney, Stuart Crichton, said that Santiago was the mastermind of the operation, bringing the dogs into the house, training them, and holding the fights. While asking that Acompora be released on the 10 months she had served, Crichton said the mother never personally harmed an animal.
DeSouzza, though, presented pictures from Acompora's cellphone showing unidentified men posing with dogs, a pit bull running on a treadmill, and a dog hanging from the ceiling by a cable.
That dog was killed because it bit one of Acompora's children, Gordon testified. He said Santiago told him it took three minutes for the dog to die.
DeSouzza said the photos showed the woman knew what was happening in her home.
Acompora, in a tearful statement, apologized for what she had done, and said she was undergoing counseling and preparing to enter a mental-health program. She said she tried to leave Santiago twice but returned to the home both times.
"It hasn't been easy for me to express how sorry I am, because I didn't really have the ability to," she told Gavin.
DeSouzza said Acompora's children are in the care of relatives. Gavin said it would be up to a Family Court judge to decide whether Acompora would be allowed to care for her children in the future.
The judge, acknowledging the mother's regret, said he could not dismiss the neglect she showed her children and the animals in her home.
"If you love your children, you're going to hold them and protect them," he said. "Every animal deserves the same."