TEXAS -- A man who "claimed" he was too drunk to remember beating his Australian shepherd puppy to death was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison.
Thyren Clent Justus, 36, pleaded guilty to a felony animal cruelty charge but claimed he remembers nothing about breaking his dog's leg and stomping him so hard that the puppy's lungs collapsed.
Defense attorney Pete Schulte argued that Justus should receive probation because he's a recovering alcoholic. Prosecutor Felicia Kerney argued that Justus should be given the maximum 10-year sentence.
State District Judge Tracy Holmes, who determined the sentence, questioned Justus about his memories several times when he testified Thursday. She said it was convenient that he could remember other details but nothing about his dog's death.
"What would cause you to become so violent to an animal like that?" Holmes asked.
"I can't think of anything. I've never been that angry with anything," Justus said.
State District Judge Tracy Holmes could have given Justus the maxiumum sentence of ten years but chose not to.
Justus went to the Greenville Avenue St. Patrick's Day Parade and then out to a bar for several hours before walking home around 2 a.m. March 20, 2016. He said he drank "beer to jello shots to vodka – I couldn't tell you."
He claimed he remembers flashes of his dog and officers arresting him but little else about the night.
"I have played this over and over in my mind," Justus testified. "I'm haunted by – I wish I remembered."
Police were called to an apartment in the 3500 block of Wheeler Street after a neighbor reported hearing a dog yelping amid loud banging noises.
They found streaks of feces from the parking garage to the door of Justus' apartment. When Justus answered the door, he was crying and told police his dog had died.
Officers found Luke, a brown-and-white Australian shepherd puppy, slumped in front of a toilet with blood around his snout and one of his back legs hanging at an odd angle.
Deborah Thorne, a Dallas Animal Services veterinarian, testified Thursday that the 5-month-old puppy had multiple fractures, collapsed lungs, broken teeth and was bleeding from the nose.
"This is one of the worst cases of animal cruelty I've ever seen," she said.
Schulte asked if any of the injuries could've been caused by a 200-pound man falling onto the 20-pound puppy. Thorne said it was unlikely.
Justus, a registered nurse, was evicted and fired from his job after he was arrested in 2016. People posted his address on social media. He moved in with his mother in Oklahoma and got a job as a traveling nurse in San Angelo, Texas. But alcohol got him in trouble again.
"I did what Thyren does. I drank," Justus said.
He was arrested in June on a charge of driving while intoxicated in Tom Green County.
Justus said he has been sober since July and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
But Kerney, the prosecutor, argued that's not enough. She said there's no question that Justus was drunk, but alcohol doesn't make people brutally beat their pets.
Justus, who had described his dog as "obstinate," was mad because he came home after being out since the previous morning to find his untrained puppy had torn up training pads and pooped on the floor, Kerney said.
"He remembers exactly what happened," she said. "He'd always had a problem training Luke."
(Idaho Statesman - April 13, 2017)