Will Desmond The Dog Get His Day In Court?
by marcia chambers | Jun 22, 2012 7:20 am
Posted to: Legal Writes
(News analysis) Alex Wullaert, who has confessed to police that he strangled Desmond his boxer-pit-bull mix dog to death, now faces a felony charge, one that holds five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Besides strangling Desmond, then 6, he has admitted to repeatedly punishing him: hitting the dog with a shoe, starving him and locking him a small bathroom for 12 hours a day. Last January, after the disoriented Desmond peed on him, Wullaert admits he went into a rage and strangled Desmond to death with the dog’s own collar.
Now Wullaert, 22, who has been arrested in the past for violent crimes but never convicted, has applied for a deal under the Accelerated Rehabilitation (A/R) program, which allows charges against first-time offenders to be dismissed after the probation period ends.
If Wullaert qualifies for the program and completes its requirements, he will have no criminal record. A/R means there would be no plea to a criminal charge or no trial. A judge may impose conditions for A/R, including anger management, therapy and community service. Wullaert is due in Superior Court at 123 Elm St., in New Haven this coming Tuesday at 10 a.m.
Every time Wullaert makes a court appearance protestors are at the courthouse to greet him with photographs of Desmond and signs they created. One group of five carried photos of Desmond describing the life he led before he was killed. The signs read: “I was Tortured,” “I was Beaten,” “I was Starved,” “I was Killed.” “My Name was Desmond.”
At the last hearing these protestors went into the courtroom where they sat on wooden benches waiting for the case to be called. They held small photos of Desmond whose face was framed in a red heart. If Superior Court Judge Susan Connors looked their way she would have seen the photos.
“We are just devastated,” said Micah Rapini, one of Desmond’s shelter moms and the primary organizer of the protest. The protestors, who have developed a Facebook page entitled Justice for Desmond has a strong following. They plan to be at the courthouse on Tuesday.
They are seeking a strong prison sentence for Wullaert. To get that, the state prosecutor, Joseph LaMotta, would have to reject the defense’s proposed A/R program. So far LaMotta has not stated his position one way or the other. He and Richard P. Silverstein, Wullaert’s attorney, and the judge conferred briefly at the bench about the A/R plan at Wullaert’s last court appearance on June 5th. LaMotta could not be reached for comment.
The accelerated rehabilitation program is designed to keep certain criminal cases out of the court system. Under the statute, it can be used only if the crime is “not of a serious nature” and if the suspect does not have a prior criminal conviction. Obtaining A/R depends in part on the victim’s agreement, but sometimes even if a victim agrees to the program, a state prosecutor will not, and will ask the judge for jail time instead. Click here to read one Branford story where that happened.
First the judge must consider the crime itself, in this case, a charge not often brought in this state because obtaining the evidence is difficult. Under this statute (CGS53-247(b) “maliciously and intentionally maiming, mutilating, torturing, wounding or killing an animal is punishable by a fine up to $5,000 and up to five years imprisonment, or both. This is a far more serious crime than mere animal cruelty; which holds up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine or both.
Over the last nine years, the police across the state have brought only 42 cases of malicious animal cruelty under the more serious felony statute, the one that applies to Wullaert’s actions. That is how hard it is to bring these cases.
State Animal Control Officer Todd Curry, who signed the arrest warrant that a judge approved and oversees the case, said Thursday “the case is solid; it is cut and dry.” Wullaert, (pictured) he noted, had confessed to the crime in a room inside the Madison Police Station. He faces five years in prison.
“It is now up to the court,” Curry said. Asked yesterday if prosecutor LaMotta had contacted him to be in court Tuesday when the case is expected to be heard, he said he had not.
Cases Booted Out of Court System
The accelerated rehabilitation program can be used, according to the statute, only if the crime is “not of a serious nature.” In Connecticut state prosecutors and judges hold the killings of animals to a lesser standard of criminal culpability. Indeed, it could be argued there is virtually no standard at all.
The state’s record on prosecuting animal cruelty cases is, in a word, dismal. The State’s Office of Legal Research (OLR) compiled statistics from 2002 to November, 2011, over nearly 9 years, and found there were 3,208 cases of cruelty to animals on the lesser felony abuse of animals statute and just 42 cases for the more serious charge, that of maliciously and intentionally killing an animal, over the same nine-year period.
The Judicial Department data the OLR gathered shows that for all data on animal cruelty from 2002 to Nov. 7, 2011, 51 percent of all offenses were nollied, meaning the state agreed not to prosecute and charges were eventually dismissed once the defendant completed the program. According to the December, 2011 OLR report, an additional 34 percent of all animal cruelty cases were dismissed outright. The remaining 15 percent resulted in guilty findings.
This means that a total of 85 percent of all animal cruelty were booted out of the court system one way or another. The defendants emerged with a clean slate.
Geoff Fleck, an attorney for the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and a former state prosecutor in Florida, wrote in a recent article on the ALDF site that “animal cruelty presents a five-time risk of violence crime against humans. Seventy-five percent of all violent offenders have prior records of cruelty to animals. …In light of the irrefutable link between animal cruelty and human violence—especially domestic and child abuse—prosecuting acts of violence against animals addresses exactly the same issue as prosecuting abuses against humans. They are but two sides of the same coin….”
The problem for LaMotta and Judge Connors is how to deal with a man who has no visible criminal record but who has been arrested in the past for violent acts—-none of which led to an actual conviction. When Wullaert was asked at the last court hearing if had ever been convicted of a crime he rightly said no.
But he has been arrested in the past and has managed to beat the criminal charges. He is also believed to have been arrested as a juvenile. According to the A/R statute, the judge is entitled to have access to the youthful offender records of the defendant and “may consider the nature and circumstances of the crime with which such person was charged as a youth.”
In addition, in 2009 Wullaert was arrested on an assault charge, one for which he served community service at the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford, and while the details of that crime are not known, whatever he did was wiped clean after he was given probation.
In February, 2011, Wullaert was again arrested in East Haven on charges of strangulation in the third degree, unlawful restraint in the second degree, disorderly conduct, interference with an emergency call and assault in the third degree. His live-in girl friend and the mother of his young daughter was the complainant, police said. It is believed the girlfriend later dropped the charges but not before taking Wullaert to court seeking child support. Click here to read about this history.
This Victim Cannot Be Heard
According to the A/R statute before a defendant is granted accelerated rehabilitation, the defendant is required to give notice to the victim, if there is one. The victim then has an opportunity to be heard on the defendant’s application to the A/R program.
But Desmond, the victim, cannot be heard.
Laura Burban, the director of the Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford, knew Wullaert in 2009 when he did a court related community service at her shelter for the now expunged assault case. She argued the necropsy (or autopsy) report should speak for Desmond.
“I just don’t think that when you kill an animal so maliciously there should be no consequences. He did this with malice and the necropsy report backs that up. He has admitted to this crime. The report speaks volumes. Broken bones, malnourished, tortured. I think Desmond is taking from the dead.”
As for Wullaert, it didn’t take long for him to get another dog after he allegedly killed Desmond on Jan 12, 2012 in his apartment at 57 East Main St. in Branford. (He told Madison police he put Desmond into a bag and threw his body into a lake in Madison, the town where he grew up. It was later found by a town resident on March 11, two months later. )
According to Burban, in February, 2012, even before Desmond’s body was discovered, Wullaert went to a Petco in Southington and purchased a puppy, a brown and white boxer-pit-bull mix, just like Desmond. He named him Hector.
As it turned out, Wullaert, under intense pressure because of his criminal case, decided to give Hector to a male friend who lives in East Haven. This was after Burban required him to vaccinate and license his new dog. She said Wullaert complied but the dog, renamed Buddy, was licensed in East Haven, not Branford.
Where Wullaert lives is not clear.
Post a Comment
Prosecutor Joseph LaMotta should reject the defense’s proposed A/R program. Wullaert is a ticking time bomb. He should be sent up for 5 years and every minute of that five years should be used for therapy so he doesn’t graduate to people murder.
This guy needs to be punished for the awful crime he committed. What kind of message does that send if the punishment for torturing and killing animals is an anger management class? Is this what we do with people who fight dogs?
Robn is right. Wallaert is a sick individual and his dangerous behavior is only going to escalate if he continues to go unpunished and see zero consequences.
The prosecutor should absolutely seek the maximum penalty.
posted by: William Kurtz on June 22, 2012 9:34am
No way is this man a candidate for AR. Like robn said above, without intervention, it’s only a matter of time before this man kills another person.