A Picture Rocks woman who was acquitted of dogfighting and animal-cruelty charges in November 2008 still must forfeit the property where she raised the dogs.

Pima County Superior Court Judge Stephen Villarreal ruled Monday there was "probable cause" to believe the property, formerly owned by Emily Dennis, had been used to commit felonies for financial gain and for the breeding and selling of dogs for fighting and must be forfeited.

Dennis and her partner, Mahlon T. Patrick, were charged with two counts of dogfighting and 21 counts of cruelty to animals in February 2008, but Judge John Leonardo of Pima County Superior Court ruled there was insufficient evidence to convict them.

The 110 dogs seized from the couple were euthanized shortly after the couple was arrested; the county said the animals were aggressive or injured and could not be adopted.

Attempts to reach the couple's attorneys were unsuccessful.

Last March, Deputy County Attorney Kevin Krejci said there is nothing unusual about pursuing civil forfeiture of assets, even when a defendant has been acquitted of criminal charges.

The standard of proof is lower in civil forfeiture. The state must prove the property in question was used to facilitate criminal activity or was obtained with proceeds of criminal activity by a preponderance of the evidence, while in criminal cases, prosecutors must prove the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Speaking generally, not about this case in particular, being acquitted means the state was unable to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Krejci said. "It doesn't necessarily mean that criminal activity didn't occur on the property in question."

Pima County Barbara LaWall said this might be the first time in the U.S. that a residential property has been forfeited because it was used as a site for breeding and selling dogs for fighting.

"This is a significant accomplishment and a major victory over those who abuse animals," LaWall said in a prepared statement. "My office will continue vigorous enforcement of the law to protect animals."

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com