Man found guilty of felony in dog's death

June 10, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Under rainy skies, Richard W. Faircloth was led out of the Berkeley County courthouse in handcuffs Thursday evening, after a jury found him guilty of maliciously killing his dog by tying it to a set of railroad tracks.

A jury of six men and six women deliberated for nearly three hours before finding Faircloth, 30, of Martinsburg, guilty of a felony charge of animal cruelty.

Faircloth is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 8, when Circuit Judge David Sanders can sentence him to one to three years in prison.


"I hope (the verdict) sends a message that it's not going to be tolerated in the state of West Virginia," Animal Control Officer Erin Webber, who helped to investigate the case, said of torturing and killing animals.

"We feel that justice has finally been served," Assistant Prosecutor Betsy Giggenbach said. "We are thankful to the jury and thankful to the judge."

She added that she hopes Kujo - the German shepherd/pit bull mix that was killed - can now be buried. His body has been kept frozen as evidence since being found on a set of railroad tracks Oct. 14, 2004.

This likely was the first time in the state a person has been convicted under a law that makes torturing or maliciously killing an animal a felony, Giggenbach said. The law was created two years ago, she said.

Faircloth's wife and one of his friends stalked out of the courtroom after the verdict was read, when Sanders announced that he was not going to allow Faircloth to remain free on $40,000 bail.

Amy Faircloth said later that her husband has a family to support and that sending him to jail to await sentencing is unfair.

She said her husband was the subject of "a witch hunt."

Although she previously told The Herald-Mail that the dog was not vicious, she argued after the verdict that Kujo was "a threat."

"He was protecting his children," she said of her husband's actions. "He had a right to protect his children."

Jurors were able to return one of three verdicts - guilty of felony animal cruelty, guilty of misdemeanor animal cruelty or not guilty.

Felony animal cruelty means an animal is tortured or killed maliciously.

According to instructions provided to the jury, malice is defined, in part, as "every evil design in general; and by it is meant that the fact has been attended by such circumstances as are ordinarily symptoms of a wicked, depraved and malignant spirit, and carry with them the plain indications of a heart, regardless of social duty, fatally bent upon mischief."

Confession read to jury

The state called two witnesses in its initial portion of the case and one rebuttal witness after the defense presented its evidence.

Aside from jury selection, which took place Wednesday, the entire trial took place Thursday.

Webber, the first witness called, described finding the dog on a set of railroad tracks behind the Adam Stephen house in Martinsburg. A nylon blue leash had been used to tie the dog to the tracks, she said.

The dog's lower jaw and tongue were severed from its body and found around 15 yards farther down the tracks, she said.

Cpl. Ron Gardner, with the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, interviewed Faircloth on Oct. 18, 2004, after his wife said the dead dog's description matched that of her missing dog, Kujo.

Initially asked of the dog's whereabouts, Richard Faircloth told Gardner that he had dropped the dog off one night, per his wife's request.

He later admitted to killing the dog, according to a written copy of the interview that Gardner read aloud to the jury.

Asked if he had tied the dog to the tracks Faircloth said, "Yes. I did that. He was mean and it was because he tried to bite (my children) and showed them his teeth," according to the interview.

Defense attorney David Camilletti called several witnesses to testify about Kujo's demeanor, including Mike Cole, a neighbor, who said he often saw the dog in a kennel in Faircloth's back yard. As people approached, the dog would growl, bark and start digging in an attempt to get out, he said.

On cross-examination, Cole and the other defense witnesses said the dog had never bitten them.

Faircloth's boss, Steve Haag with Fairfax (Va.) Suburban Septic, said that Faircloth worked as a tank truck driver. Around the time the dog was killed Faircloth worked for 38 straight days, 10 to 12 hours each day - a point Camilletti mentioned in his closing argument.

"After working 38 straight days, he just snapped and he did what he did," Camilletti told the jurors.

Camilletti also told the jurors in his closing argument that his client does not deny tying Kujo to the tracks.

"My client is an idiot," he said. "He did it. It was stupid, OK. That doesn't mean it's torture."

Called as a rebuttal witness, Briggs Animal Adoption Center employee Priscilla Timbrook said Faircloth's wife worked as a kennel attendant at the no-kill animal shelter in Charles Town, W.Va.

Timbrook said that Amy Faircloth once brought Kujo to the shelter to receive his vaccinations from a veterinarian. The dog seemed scared, but did not show any aggression, Timbrook said.

In her closing argument, Giggenbach kept repeating the phrase, "The thing speaks for itself."

She held up photographs taken of the dog's body beside the tracks and a family photograph taken of Kujo before his death.

"It gives me chills to even discuss this and look at these photos," she told the jury.

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