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Teacher indicted on animal cruelty charge

October 25, 2005|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

waynesboro@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A preliminary hearing in an animal cruelty case against Larry Kent Messner of Martinsburg was canceled Monday following his indictment on the felony charge Friday, court officials said.

Messner, 52, of 100 Spaniel Road, teaches fifth grade at Pinebrook Elementary School in Loudoun County, Va. He was arrested Oct. 3 by West Virginia State Police in connection with a July 28 incident in which a neighbor's dog suffered burns to its eyes, mouth and esophagus, according to court records.

An unknown substance was poured on the dog's face and upper body, court records said.

The dog, a 9-year-old English shepherd named Trixie, survived.

Messner will be arraigned in Berkeley County Circuit Court Oct. 31, Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine said Monday. A trial date will be set at that time, she said.

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Messner, who is free on $10,000 bond, has denied the allegation. He faces one to five years in prison and up to $5,000 in fines if convicted.

He has taught in Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan counties and served as a principal, assistant principal and director of a dropout prevention program in West Virginia.

According to court records, the complaint was filed by the dog's owner, Sonia Waggoner of 120 Spaniel Road.

The dog was in her fenced-in yard at the time of the incident, court records said. Waggoner called police when she returned home after 5 p.m. July 28 and saw that her dog could not open her eyes and was vomiting, court records said.

State Trooper J.J. Bowman, the investigating officer, also saw that the animal could not open her eyes and appeared to be "very sick," court records said.

A witness, Billy H. Justice, who testified before the grand jury Friday, told police in a written statement on July 28 that he saw a neighbor in brown clothes wearing a beige or off-colored hat come onto the Waggoners' property and pour a bucket of "some liquid" on the dog's face and upper body, according to records.

Justice, in his statement, said the dog was barking but had only been outside for about 15 minutes. He said the dog tried to rub off the substance by pressing its face on the ground and running around. He said she could not open her eyes and was salivating, records state.

Messner told Bowman during questioning that same day that he had to call animal control officers eight to 10 times before the incident, according to court records.

He denied going into his neighbor's yard or pouring anything on any animal. He offered to take a lie-detector test, court records said.

Bowman, in his report, said Messner wore a beige brim hat.

The Humane Society of the United States wrote to Edgar B. Hatrick, superintendent of Loudoun County Public Schools, asking him to suspend Messner, according to The Associated Press.

"This vicious and depraved act of animal cruelty is particularly disturbing, not only because of the suffering this dog was forced to endure, but also because of the implications such cruelty holds for the safety of the community at large," Peter Wood, the humane society's deputy manager of cruelty issues, wrote in the Oct. 6 letter to Hatrick.

Wayde Byard, spokesman for the Virginia school district, acknowledged Wood's letter.

"People have to remember that this is still an alleged crime, no finding of guilt yet," Byard told the AP. "Any action now will be premature. He still has to go through due process."

Under terms of his bail agreement, Messner is allowed to leave West Virginia for his teaching job in Virginia, court records said.

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