Upstate man gets 5 years in prison for animal cruelty + video

Greenville NewsJuly 16, 2014 

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Roger Dennis Owens stood shackled and silent as prosecutors described the injuries of a dog they said was left to die.

The pit bull mix Owens dragged behind his truck for two miles in Marietta last November was scraped raw when witnesses found her on the side of the road, said Assistant Solicitor Julie Anders.

The dog’s hind legs were ripped apart, exposing tendons, Anders said inside a packed courtroom Tuesday. Her back paws were worn down to the flesh.

Circuit Judge Letitia Verdin described the dog’s injuries as “one of the cruelest things” she’s ever seen and sentenced Owens to the state’s maximum penalty for animal cruelty.

Owens, who pleaded guilty to his charges, received five years in prison for ill treatment of animals and another five years, six months for habitual traffic offenses.

His attorney, public defender Elizabeth Powers Price, told the judge that Owens has never been known to abuse animals, had taken good care of them his whole life, but suffered from a drinking problem.

Owens had been drinking and wasn’t in his right mind that day on Nov. 29, Price said.

Prosecutors said witnesses reported seeing a dog tied to an open truck bed with her front paws on the gate while her hind legs were dragged across the road. The dog was running, trying to keep up with the truck, Anders said. The witnesses tried to stop Owens, but he sped up, and they lost sight of the truck, Anders said.

She said two of the witnesses then followed a trail of blood on the road until they found the dog, abandoned, with severe injuries.

Cynthia Sarachino, an animal rescue volunteer, told the judge she was at Upstate Veterinary clinic when the dog named Andra Grace came in wrapped in bloody blankets.

The dog was “offering kisses as she lied there in pain,” Sarachino read from a prepared statement. “She was and is an innocent, good, gentle creature that did not deserve this heinous act.”

Owens had initially been charged with a misdemeanor offense, but it was upgraded after further investigation by Greenville County deputies, according to the Solicitor’s Office.

Many other animal abuse cases, however, never make it to the judge, Wayne Brennessel, executive director of the Humane Society of the Midlands, told The Greenville News.

The group that investigates animal cruelty across the state gets calls every day about people who abandon animals, run puppy mills or beat their pets.

“To get our law enforcement agencies and our county solicitors to really pursue those cases is quite difficult. You have to have a dramatic case,” Brennessel said.

South Carolina ranked 46th in the nation for its animal cruelty laws last year, according to a recent report from the Humane Society of the United States. It’s one of the few states with no felony penalties for cockfighting, the report said, and didn’t end bear baying — the practice of restraining black bears while dogs surround it — until 2013.

In June, state legislators passed a bill that includes pets in emergency protective orders sought by domestic abuse victims while also increasing penalties for animal cruelty offenses. Felony charges are now punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.

Brennessel said the bill marked the first time in six years that the state has moved in the right direction to address animal cruelty.

“The general attitude is that pets are disposable,” he said.

In the courtroom Tuesday, pastor Jerry Darnell, a family friend of Owens, said Owens has never mistreated animals but that drinking alcohol caused him to “do a lot of things you wouldn’t normally do.”

He said the family has gotten threatening calls and things in the mail since Owens’ arrest. “People are calling them animal haters.”

Owens’ attorney told the judge that her client panicked after realizing what had happened and left the dog on the road. She also asked that Owens receive a total of five years for his charges after serving 210 days in jail.

Owens was charged with two counts of being a habitual traffic offender, a felony offense punishable by five years, and driving under suspension when he was taken into custody.

Prosecutors said Owens has been arrested eight times for driving under suspension since 1986 and three times for driving under the influence.

Verdin had little remorse to show the defendant at the end of the hearing.

“I can’t imagine treating another living thing like this,” she said. “And about the best defense you can put up...was that you were driving drunk.”

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