Man Gets Probation For Shooting Dog
Richard Martin of Newbury, Vt., listens during his arraignment at the Orange District Court in Chelsea, Vt., on March 19, 2014. Martin plead guilty and was given a suspended three to twelve months prison sentence on an animal cruelty charge for killing Amy Emerson's German Shepherd, Kane, after he became ensnared in a trap Martin had on his land.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Amy Emerson of Newbury, Vt., cries during the the arraignment of Richard Martin of Newbury, Vt., at Orange District Court in Chelsea, Vt., on March 19, 2014. Martin plead guilty to a misdemenor animal cruelty charge in connection with shooting and killing Emerson's 7-year-old German Shepherd, Kane, who became ensnared in one of Martin's hunting traps.
Valley News - Sarah Priestap
Kane, a 7-year-old German shepherd who belonged to Amy Emerson, of Newbury, Vt., is shown with her daughter's dog, Koda, in an undated photograph. Kane was allegedly shot and killed after he became ensnared in a neighbor's hunting trap on Monday, Feb. 10, 2014. (Courtesy photograph)
Chelsea — A Newbury, Vt., man pleaded guilty to killing his neighbor’s dog during a hearing Wednesday, when the neighbor gave a teary account of finding the animal caught in a hunting trap with a bullet wound to the head, after following his tracks in the snow.
Richard A. Martin, 45, was fined and sentenced to one-year probation that bars him from trapping animals.
“Losing Kane and finding him in a trap and shot has been really traumatic for me and my family,” Amy Emerson, who lives on Corey Hill Road in Newbury, Vt., told the court.
Emerson was joined in Orange Superior Court by supporters that included her high school-aged daughter, a family friend and two additional supporters who heard about her story in the media and offered their help .
“Not having him to feed, not having him there with us all the time,” Emerson said, her voice cracking. “I feel like Mr. Martin should put his hand or his foot in a trap and be stuck outside for 12 to 14 hours in 14-below weather to know what my dog went through.”
According to a written statement Martin provided to police after the incident, Kane, an 80-pound German shepherd , was aggressive when Martin found the dog with one of its legs caught in a trap in his driveway on the morning of Feb. 11.
“After multiple attempts to calm the dog enough to get the trap off his foot failed, I became afraid that as hard as he was charging me and being as large as he was that he would break free of the small saplings the trap was anchored to,” Martin wrote in the statement, which was included in the court case file. “I did not know what to do.”
Martin pleaded guilty to fatal cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor charge that carries up to one year in prison. As part of a plea agreement negotiated with prosecutors that was accepted by Judge Robert Gerety, Martin will pay fines and other charges totaling $722, in addition to the one year of probation.
Separately on Wednesday, Martin admitted to four trapping violations brought by the state Fish & Wildlife Department in connection with the incident. The violations bring additional fines totaling more than $1,000.
Trapping is prohibited by Vermont law after Dec. 31 every year until the following fall.
A restitution hearing, in which the court will determine how much money Martin must pay Emerson for the value of the dog, has been scheduled for late April.
In delivering his sentence on the animal cruelty charge, Gerety said he took into account the fines levied by Fish & Wildlife, calling the overall punishments “significant.” He noted the serious emotional impact of the dog’s death on Emerson and her family.
“The problem isn’t so much the destruction of the animal, it’s the impact it has on the people who are the owners of the animal,” Gerety said, speaking to Martin. “And I think you can see ... a very significant and emotional impact, and it can be long-lasting, and so it’s important to keep that in mind in your conduct in the future.”
Martin said little during the 20-minute arraignment, responding to Gerety’s questions with a clear “yes sir” or “no sir.” Prior to sentencing, when the judge asked Martin if there was anything he wanted to say, Martin said no.
Martin declined to comment after the hearing.
According to court documents, Kane went missing on the night of Feb. 10. When Emerson woke up the next morning, the dog still could not be found, and she left work early later that day to try to find it.
Searching with her daughter’s dog, a young dog named Koda, Emerson and Koda followed tracks onto the road and up Martin’s driveway, eventually finding Kane caught in the trap.
At first Emerson thought that he was alive and lethargic from being stuck in freezing temperatures overnight, but she soon realized he had been shot in the head and was dead.
Emerson called two friends and State Police, and Martin put the dog’s body in the back of his pickup truck and drove the dog and Emerson back to her house before police arrived, according to the affidavits. At that point, according to witness statements, the two friends exchanged heated words with Martin, who left.
The friends, Carol Stoll and Ami Norton, said Martin told them that he heard the dog “thrashing” all night, which Martin denied to police. Stoll told police that Martin said “you could not just have neighbors’ dogs running around on your property,” according to a police affidavit.
Emerson has denied that the dog could have been aggressive under normal circumstances, calling Kane a friendly dog that was well-known in the neighborhood, and has said Martin should have called police or other officials for help.
After the hearing, she said that she could only bring herself to pick up Kane’s food and water dishes last week. The other dog, Koda, would normally try to steal Kane’s food from him, she said, but Koda has not touched Kane’s food since the older dog’s death.
After the hearing, prosecutor William Porter, said it was “clear that (Martin) did take responsibility” for the dog’s death. Porter did not try the case in court, but has worked on it.
“He did step right up to the plate,” Porter said.
Prosecutors are generally limited in such cases to seeking fines or restitution, pointing out that both will be levied against Martin, who also received maximum probation and special conditions that directly address his offense.
Emerson was gratified that Martin pleaded guilty and said she believed he felt some guilt because of family connections — her daughter’s father is Martin’s brother — but said she’s not sure whether he agreed that what he did was wrong.
Emerson’s supporters, too, said they hoped for stricter punishments in animal cruelty cases. They included Sue Skaskiw, director of the Vermont Volunteer Services for Animals Humane Society, and Adam Steinberg, an Upper Valley resident and animal rights activist, who each learned of Kane’s death in the media and reached out to Emerson in support. They both oppose trapping, calling it inhumane. Steinberg said killing an animal should carry the same sentence as killing a human.
Emerson, Saskiw and Steinberg each also said they wished Martin’s sentence included some kind of education component, such as being asked to go into schools to talk about negative effects of trapping.
Maggie Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3220.