LAWRENCEBURG — After more than an hour of jury deliberation, an Anderson County man was convicted of second-degree animal cruelty Wednesday in the fatal beating of a mixed-breed puppy.
The jury in Anderson District Court recommended that Paul Scott "Doobie" Dearinger, 41, serve 30 days in jail and pay a $500 fine and court costs. The maximum penalty for the misdemeanor is a year in jail.
"The jury ... returned a very fair decision, defense attorney Justin Thomas Genco said.
No one actually saw Dearinger beat Buster, an 8-month-old puppy, in the bathroom of the Dry Dock Road home he shared with Elizabeth Dennis or saw him put the puppy in a back-yard fire pit used to burn trash.
But Dennis testified that she heard the dog yelping as Dearinger beat it in the bathroom after the couple returned from Frankfort following a night of drinking and arguing. She later found the dog in the fire pit.
Dr. Aaron Goodpaster, a Lawrenceburg veterinarian who examined the animal's remains, said the puppy's neck vertebrae were broken and separated, causing death. The nearly 14-pound dog was a mix of blue heeler, Chihuahua and terrier. He was brown with wiry hair.
"It had to have been a pretty traumatic injury to separate the neck like that," Goodpaster said.
Marilyn Hansley testified that Dennis had telephoned and told her that Dearinger had beaten Buster to death. Hansley went to the Dearinger-Dennis home, took the dog out of the fire pit, put the remains in a trash bag and buried it with the help of others.
Hansley also said she saw the room where the dog was beaten.
"There was poop and blood everywhere in the bathroom," Hansley said.
Anderson County animal control officers received an anonymous tip about the dog's death, exhumed the remains and took them to the veterinarian's clinic for examination.
Dearinger testified that he kicked the dog after he thought Buster had killed 17 baby rabbits, two adult rabbits, three roosters and two hens that were penned in the back yard.
"I feel bad about this, but I kicked it and I guess I broke its neck," Dearinger said. "It died right there in my arms."
But during cross-examination, Anderson County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis questioned Dearinger's testimony.
"You didn't see Buster kill 17 baby rabbits," Lewis said to Dearinger.
"He was in the process of killing," Dearinger said.
Lewis also called two rebuttal witnesses — animal control officer Jason Chesser and Hansley, the friend who gave Buster and another dog to Dearinger and Dennis. They said they saw no evidence of dead rabbits or chickens in the back yard.
"I didn't see any carcasses other than the one we dug up," Chesser said.
In his closing argument, defense attorney Genco asked the jury to find Dearinger not guilty. If the dog was beaten to death in the bathroom, as the prosecution said, the animal would have had more than a broken neck, Genco said.
But Lewis, the prosecutor, noted other testimony that Buster had been put in the pen with the rabbits and chickens before.
"Now, all of a sudden, Buster decides to go on a mass killing spree?" Lewis asked. "The commonwealth submits to you that didn't happen."
In her closing argument, Lewis told the jury Dearinger tossed the dead puppy in the fire pit to destroy evidence.
In written instructions read to the jury by District Judge Donna Dutton, Dearinger was "privileged to kill the dog" if at the time "he believed that the dog was then and there being aggressive toward a domestic animal or was diseased."
The Anderson District Court jury began deliberations shortly after 2:30 p.m. Wednesday. A guilty verdict was returned shortly after 3:30 p.m.
Dearinger already is serving a 15-day sentence for a probation revocation on traffic offenses. The 30-day sentence will be in addition to that sentence, minus any credit for time served when he initially was charged with animal cruelty in September 2010. Because Anderson County does not have a jail, Dearinger is in the Shelby County jail.