By David Goodhue
From: The Miami Herald
Jurors have found a Key Largo man guilty of felony animal cruelty that left an 8-month-old dog injured and fighting for its life.
Prosecutors say Noah Mitchell, 35, savagely beat his Labrador retriever, Bubba, during a barbecue on Oct. 3, 2010, because the animal took a steak from the kitchen counter. The six-member jury took about six hours to deliberate on Wednesday.
Animal cruelty is a third-degree felony in Florida. Third-degree felonies are usually punishable by up to five years in prison, but animal cruelty is among several charges with a maximum punishment of only one year in county jail and four years of probation.
Prosecutor Terri Hunnewell of the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office said Mitchell dropped, kicked, punched and strangled the dog around 9:30 p.m. that night. Mitchell had just moved into his house on Pimlico Lane.
Two men were also in the house when the incident happened — Curt Murphy and Gary Pitterman. Mitchell describes the men as “acquaintances” who helped him with the move. Pitterman was the prosecution’s only eyewitness. Mitchell’s defense attorney, Key West lawyer Donald Barrett, said Pitterman’s testimony was unreliable because he admittedly was drinking heavily that night.
But Hunnewell said the deputy who first interviewed Pitterman that night said the witness did not appear intoxicated. She told jurors that based on Bubba’s injuries, there was no reason they should doubt Pitterman’s version of the incident.
One veterinarian who observed Bubba at a Miami-Dade County animal clinic testified Tuesday that the dog’s injuries were consistent with those that an animal that size would sustain after falling from a two- to three-story building, or after being hit by a car. Bubba had collapsed lungs, a damaged larynx and six fractured ribs.
“The injuries are consistent with what Gary Pitterman said he saw Noah Mitchell do to Bubba,” Hunnewell told jurors during closing arguments Wednesday.
Mitchell insisted he hurt Bubba by accident. He testified Wednesday that when he went into the kitchen, Bubba ran outside and to the back of the house because he knew he wasn’t allowed to have the steak. The dog tried to hide in between the house’s water heater and the washing machine.
When Bubba would not come out, Mitchell said he reached behind the hot water heater and grabbed the dog by the collar. Bubba gave out a loud yelp, and Mitchell said he did not want to bother his neighbors on a Sunday night with a barking dog.
Mitchell said he scooped the dog up with his right arm, cupped his left hand over Bubba’s mouth and began to walk back into the house. That’s when Bubba wiggled his head from Mitchell’s hand and bit his owner on the index finger, leaving about a half-inch wound.
At that point, Mitchell said he accidentally dropped Bubba and fell himself, hitting his knee against the concrete patio. Mitchell said both he and Bubba were in a “freefall.” He told Hunnewell that he’s not sure if his knee ever hit Bubba.
Mitchell maintained that he was never angry at Bubba for taking the steak off the counter and was just trying to get control of the young dog.
“I was ambiguous about the steak. It was my fault. I left it where he was able to get it,” Mitchell said. After falling, Mitchell said he guided Bubba back into the house by the collar. He said Bubba was able to walk.
Once inside, the dog briefly laid down by a coffee table, then went inside his kennel, Mitchell said.
Mitchell said it wasn’t until that point in the evening that he realized Bubba was seriously injured. He gave Pitterman and Murphy a ride back to the main access road at mile marker 100 that Pitterman uses to go to his liveaboard boat.
Pitterman called his friend, Karin Kass, and told her how badly injured Bubba was. Kass called the police. When deputies arrived, they determined Bubba needed medical attention. A deputy took the dog to Dr. George Bailey of Key Largo Animal Care Clinic. Bailey inflated Bubba’s collapsed lungs but determined the animal needed more care than he could provide.
Sgt. Thomas Kiffney took Bubba to a clinic in Miami-Dade, where the dog was put on a ventilator and oxygen for two days. Bubba is reportedly healthy and doing fine. It is not clear where he now lives.