Pets and precedent

By Tarryn Kelly

On Saturday of last week, I made my first kill. The date was April 12, 1997 about 4:30  p.m. The victim was a loved one. My dear dog Sparkle…. We beat the dog, tied her up in a plastic garbage bag, put that bag in another bag …We put the subdued little pooch in an old book bag and went to some woods. When we got out to the woods I took a billy club…. I … handed it to my accomplice. He ran and hit the bagged dog with it. I will never forget the howl she made. it sounded almost human. We laughed and hit her hard. I picked up the book bag, which was now soaked in her blood, and drug her across the ground dropped into the woods. A hole developed in the bag and the dog stuck her head out, fully engulfed in flames. We put more on her, and more and more, and more. She got out and tried to run. I took the night stick and hit her in the shoulder, spine and neck. I’ll never forget the sound of her bones breaking … We set her on fire again, the foolish dog opened her mouth & we sprayed fluid down her throat, her whole neck caught on fire, inside & out. Finally, the fire went out and she was making a gurgling noise. I silenced the noise with the club again. I hit her so hard the crusted burnt scar on her shoulder fell of(f). I hit her so hard I knocked the fur off her neck…. Then we put her in the burned bag and chunked her in a nearby pond. We watched the bag sink. It was true beauty. – Luke Woodham, Pearl High School Shooter

 

Animal cruelty and human abuse is a parallel that seldom exists without the other. The Boston Strangler trapped dogs and cats and show arrows at them through boxes. Jeffrey Dahmer impaled frogs, cats and dogs’ heads on sticks. Dennis Rader wrote of how in his youth, he hung and cat and dog. And at 14 Lee Boyd Malco was pelting – killing – numbers cats with marbles and a slingshot.

History, court cases and front pages are replete with these connections, yet the legal penalties for these acts are closer to that of littering, than murder or assault. It’s something that’s long frustrated animal activists and pet owners alike, and had them calling for harsher punishments for perpetrators of sadistic and violent acts against animals.

RSPCA media representative Michael Beatty is at the forefront of the fight for stronger penalties:

“It’s a pattern you can’t ignore. If you do something seriously wrong and you show no empathy whatsoever there should be some sort of consequence for your actions.”

Outrage broke throughout the Australian community when Wayne Hartwig, a 19-year-old man, brutally bashed two alpacas at Caboolture State High School last year. One of the alpacas – Harrison – died on the scene, whilst the other – Harley – was euthanised due to the severity of its injuries.

Harrison and Harley, were bludgeoned – one to death, one to the brink of life – by Hartwig and his 16-year-old accomplice using rocks, a pole and a hose. Hartwig’s initial sentence of a six month suspended sentence and fee of $686.50 in compensations was considered a small price to pay for the lives of the two alpacas – the average alpaca retails at $450. Subsequently, the case was recommissioned with the Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, making an appeal on the grounds that his sentence was “manifestly inadequate”.

On the third of October 2013 the judgment was revealed – The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal, however, Mr Hartwig was not sentenced to prison, instead his suspended sentence was increased to 18 months.

Mr Beatty said of the case:

“Unfortunately I am yet to see a case of animal cruelty where the offender has received a just penalty.There has to be some form of making sure people won’t do it again, it acts as a deterrent to everybody.”

According to subsection three, section 468 of the Queensland Criminal Code, the maximum penalty available for injuring an animal is two years incarceration, or if the offence is committed at night, imprisonment for three years.  However, the judicial system is yet to hand out a penalty that reflects this.

The reason, according to RSPCA Chief Inspector of Prosecutions Annabel Buchanan, is existing  precedents:

“The only way you can actually see an increase in penalties is by getting the penalties changed under the legislation; the magistrates can’t do anything because they are bound by the precedent law… I don’t think that the maximum penalty will ever be handed down.”

She continues:

“It is well accepted that these case need to be penalized more harshly because often acts of animal cruelty lead to worse crimes.”

A psychologist report presented to the court revealed Mr Hartwig had received psychological treatment on a number of occasions. Magistrate Jennifer Batts stated that there were “some very concerning elements in that report.”

A police study conducted in New South Wales in Australia revealed that, “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty.”

Blake McKinney, psychology lecturer at the University of Queensland specialising in jury decision research says:

“It is one of the markers of psycothapy, if you harm animals you are more likely to commit some sort of violent act…Whether or not they should be locked up depends on the reason, but in many cases when you do put people away in jail they only learn to become better criminals and the action becomes counterproductive.”

In what is considered to be the worst case of animal cruelty in Australia, Jonathon Blake videotaped on a mobile phone, the mutilation and decapitation of small dog, Peanut. After kidnapping Peanut in the middle of the night, Jonathon Blake and another man took him to a park behind the Moranbah rodeo grounds. They mutilated and decapitated the small dog. Parts of his body were found around the area by residents. Mr Blake received the maximum penalty available and was sentenced to three years imprisonment. However, after only one-third of the sentence was served, and he received a two-year parole release.

Danielle Niellson, Peanut’s owner, was a former friend of Mr Blake. He stole her puppy after they had an argument where Miss Niellson called him a pedophile:

“He told me that he was going to jail for having underage sex with a fifteen year old girl and then I found out through his lawyers that he was going to jail for molesting a 13-year-old boy.”

 

Of his nature she said:

“He loved drinking and drugs, he always used to lie and everything was a fight, it was always about starting a fight or an argument with someone,”

Blake is now back in the community, having served his sentence.

The evidence that animal cruelty may lead to other violent acts is irrefutable, yet their perpetrators take their slap on the wrist, providing a precedent that it’s not very nice to kill an animal, but if you do it and apologise, life goes on… just not for Bingo.

 

 

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