The shocking death of a Lamont man who was fatally sliced at a Tulare County cockfighting match last week might strike some as poetic justice. Jose Luis Ochoa, 35, was gashed on the leg by a razor-sharp blade attached to a fighting bird's leg, and he bled to death after running from the scene as sheriff's deputies arrived to shut things down.
We prefer to think of the incident as an opportunity for the Legislature to attach meaningful penalties to a cruel practice that's gone on for decades -- largely because gambling payouts far exceed the fines typically doled out by courts.
Ochoa paid $370 in fines in 2010 after pleading no contest to one count of owning or training an animal for fighting. That's peanuts when compared to the betting pots -- upward of $10,000 -- that even a small cockfight can produce.
Cockfighting, raising gamecocks, possessing cockfighting tools and participating as a spectator are all misdemeanors in California, as long as it's a first offense. That makes this state an "attractive destination" to people involved in the so-called sport, given that Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico punish the crime as a felony. Most or all of those offenses should be first-time felonies, not only because cockfighting is brutal, but because it can be dangerous even to the non-fowl.