For the first time in Virginia’s history, the time-honored practice of cockfighting is being elevated to a felony, thanks to legislation that sailed through the General Assembly, and despite the protests of the Virginia Gamefowl Breeders Association (VGBA), an organization based in Blackstone that claims 2,000 members.
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“Gamefowl breeders have been practicing their sport in this country since Colonial times,” said William-Bernard Britton, VGBA president, in a letter of protest sent in February to the state Attorney General’s office. “Many VGBA members are fourth or fifth generation breeders and consider their birds as pets.”
Britton asked that his organization be exempted from the animal fighting legislation. In doing so, Britton specifically listed nine “private clubs” sprinkled across Virginia—including one in Albemarle, identified as Woodridge—noting that rules prohibit profanity, guns, minors, dog fighting, “illegal gambling” and “illegal immigrants.”
Several boxes of spurs—metal talons attached to a rooster’s leg—were found in a 1992 cockfighting bust in Woodridge, Albemarle County.
In 2003, local Delegate Rob Bell introduced an anti-dogfighting bill that would have also banned attendance at cockfights, as well as outlaw the possession, training or transport of fighting cocks. But the bill didn’t get out of committee until the cockfighting penalties were stripped.
Until this year, cockfighting could only be punished if money was at stake or admission was charged, and so police and prosecutors would have to bring gambling charges—which is exactly what they did in an April 2007 bust in nearby Page County. On March 17, two men entered guilty pleas for one count each of conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy in U.S. District Court in Harrisonburg in connection with last year’s bust. According to news accounts, the men allegedly ran a cockfighting ring called Little Boxwood where gambling occurred. Allegedly, some of the money collected was used to pay off the sheriff.
Two other men still face trial for their involvement in the cockfighting venture, including 60-year-old Charles Leo Kingrea*, from Gordonsville. He is charged with running a retail business inside Little Boxwood that sold knives and cockfighting accessories. His trial is scheduled for September.
It is not the first time he has been charged for aiding and abetting a gambling operation within a cockfighting venue. In 1992, Kingrea was arrested for his participation in a cockfight in Woodridge, a crossroads in the southeastern outskirts of Albemarle County.
According to police testimony in hearing transcripts in Albemarle County Circuit Court, the cockfights took place in a white barn on David L. and Jean Spradlin’s property. Albemarle Sergeant James Bond had been planning a bust since Thanksgiving Day, 1991, when two officers clandestinely entered the Spradlin barn and watched a cockfight take place in a large ring surrounded by wire and bleachers.
On the night of February 22, 1992, an undercover officer helped spring a bust of 100 to 125 people in the Spradlin barn watching a cockfight. Bond and a strike team executed a search warrant, netting several boxes of spurs, which are lashed to the cocks’ legs to give them an extra sharp talon. Betting slips and $2,613 were also seized, leading to the Spradlins’ arrest and charge for felonious operation of an illegal gambling activity. The Spradlins faced a possible 10-year sentence and a $20,000 fine. A misdemeanor cruelty to animals charge was tacked on.
Kingrea was also charged with aiding and abetting in the gambling operation. Whether Kingrea could be tried, however, was tied to the Spradlins, whose attorney successfully challenged the police search because they failed to “knock and announce.” The “cockers,” as cockfighters are known to call themselves, were freed.
Spradlin still lives in Woodridge but, when reached by phone, denied the existence of the current cockfighting club identified by the VGBA. VGBA’s Richmond lobbyist, Melanie Gerheart, said that the organization declines to comment at this time. Carroll Ibele of the United Game Breeder’s Association, a national organization with 15,000 members, would only bemoan media depiction of his sport.
“It’s the most one-sided thing in the history of the United States,” he said from his home in D’Iberville, Mississippi. “I’ve enjoyed cockfighting and I go to church on Sunday. …I’ll put my skeletons up against anybody.”
*Correction April 8: The Charles Kingrea implicated in a cockfighting ring in Harrisonburg is not a jeweler as originally reported in this story. The Palmyra jeweler Charlie Kingrea is not the Charles Leo Kingrea of Gordonsville, who is alleged to have operated a retail business at a cockfight. C-VILLE regrets the error and any confusion it has caused.
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