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Couple sentenced to 5 years in fatal mauling by dogs

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Sebastiano Quagliata, left, and Valbona Lucaj, right, waited to make their closing remarks alongside both of their defense attorneys during their sentencing, Tuesday, at Lapeer County Circuit Court in Lapeer , Mich. (Danny Miller/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)
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Jacque Sytsma, left, and Richard Sytsma, parents of Craig Systma, were interviewed by the media after the sentencing of Valbona Lucaj and Sebastiano Quagliata, Tuesday, at Lapeer County Circuit Court in Lapeer, Mich. (Danny Miller/The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)

LAPEER, Mich. » A man and his wife were sentenced to nearly five years in prison Tuesday for failing to control dogs who killed a cancer survivor as he jogged on a rural road.

Lapeer County Judge Nick Holowka said he couldn’t imagine a more "gruesome" death, although he also acknowledged that the owners didn’t intend to have the dogs kill Craig Sytsma.

Sytsma, 46, of Livonia, was mauled by two cane corsos who were loose while he was jogging a year ago in Metamora Township, 45 miles northwest of Detroit. He worked nearby as a metallurgist for a German company.

"He felt safer than running in the city," his mother, Jacque Sytsma, told reporters. "He felt if he stayed in shape it would keep the cancer away."

Sebastiano Quagliata, 46, and Valbona Lucaj, 45, had been charged with second-degree murder but pleaded no contest to owning a dangerous dog causing death. The couple apologized before being sentenced Tuesday in a courtroom packed with weeping friends and relatives from all sides.

"My thoughts and prayers go to the family," said Lucaj, who was in Boston when the attack occurred.

Her husband told the judge: "I try to be a model citizen, work all my life."

The judge sentenced them to between four years and nine months and 15 years in prison.

Lucaj, a native of Albania, and Quagliata, a native of Italy, will get credit for about a year spent in custody since their arrest, which means they’ll be eligible for parole in 2019. They could eventually be deported.

The judge said the dogs were dangerous and had attacked people at least twice before the encounter with Sytsma. They were euthanized along with another family dog after the death. Eight puppies were seized.

"Something that could have been so easily prevented was not. … Our only hope is by prayer, time and guidance, people can hopefully move on," Holowka said.

Defense attorney Sanford Schulman said the "heavy" sentence was not anticipated by the couple.

At an earlier hearing, a veterinarian testified that she wrote "DWB!!" for "dogs will bite" on their files after Tony and Princess tried to bite her during routine examinations.

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