SALEM, MO (KTVI)-- "If it doesn`t fit, you must acquit."
That familiar phrase from the O.J. Simpson trial is the same argument now being made in the ongoing saga of Phineas the dog, a yellow Labrador facing a death sentence for biting a seven-year-old girl last summer in Salem, Mo.
In the ongoing search for a way to save Phineas, the key to his freedom may prove to be five simple words:
Do you recognize this shirt?
That message was posted on the 'Save Phineas' Facebook page in June by the attorney for the dog`s owners, Joe Simon, trying to locate a duplicate of the t-shirt seen in photos of the victim while being treated for the dog bite at the hospital.
Simon was hoping it could help experts he found in dog bite identification prove Phineas is not the dog that bit the girl.
"Usually the hospital will scale the bite for us, but there was no scale so we had to look at the picture and figure out what in this picture we could use to scale the bite," said Simon.
With no photographic measurements of the bite, the trick was finding something else in the photo that could be measured and compared to the teeth marks on the girl`s body.
And that's when they got the idea to zero in on the 'zero' on the girl's crumpled t-shirt, appealing to Phineas' 150,000 Facebook followers to help find a duplicate.
"Within 24 hours someone had gone on the internet and figured out what shirt it was," Simon explained. "That was great except the manufacturer no longer sold that shirt so we couldn't go out and just buy the shirt."
But then a fan in New Jersey realized her niece had the same shirt, and mailed it to Simon.
"As soon as I got this shirt in the mail I knew there was no way Phineas left this bite because this is just tiny," he said.
After sedating Phineas, measurements were made of his bite, and then used by two Florida experts in dog bites and aggressive dog behavior to plot where Phineas` teeth would have left marks as compared to where the marks are in the hospital photo.
The written report was prepared by Dr. Kenneth Cohrn, a dentist and expert in dental forensics from Lady Lake, Florida.
"The overall size of the injury suggests a smaller dog may be responsible.... based on the current information available... I must exclude Phineas as the biter."
The case is now in court, but it was the mayor of Salem, Gary Brown, who ruled Phineas should be euthanized.
On Friday, Brown said he had not seen the new evidence, but conceded if the measurements convince the judge to overturn the death sentence, it`s fine with the mayor.
"My number one job in this city is to protect the people. If we have a dog that is going to bite, I have to protect these people. And if it has been proven this dog did not do that than case closed," Brown said.
Brown says because the case is in court, he does not have the power to commute the death sentence himself.
But the attorney for Phineas' family says the law does give the mayor that authority and that the judge has even suggested the parties come up with their own solution outside the courtroom.
According to Simon, the girl's family had a small dog at the time she was bitten, but that dog has since been put to sleep.
The next court date is July 30th.
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