Jury finds man guilty in road rage dog killing | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Jury finds man guilty in road rage dog killing

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – A former telephone repairman who threw a fluffy white dog to its death in traffic was convicted Tuesday of felony animal cruelty charges.

Andrew Burnett, 27, faces three years in prison for killing Leo, the beloved 19-pound bichon frise of Sara McBurnett, near the San Jose airport in February 2000.

The road rage case shocked the public. Dog lovers and others donated $120,000 to find Leo’s killer – more than the reward fund in several local missing child cases.

”It doesn’t bring Leo back, of course, but at least Leo had his day,” McBurnett, and Incline Village resident, said Tuesday morning after the verdict. ”One cruel person has been held accountable for his cruelty.”

Burnett sat motionless as the verdict was read in a courtroom teeming with onlookers and media. At one point he winked and said ”I love you” to his fiance seated in the front row.

McBurnett, seated near the back of the courtroom, held a friend’s hand tightly and nodded.

The jury deliberated for less than an hour. Jurors did not comment about the case after court was adjourned.

Sentencing is scheduled July 13.

McBurnett and other witnesses testified that Burnett walked briskly back to her car after a rainy-day fender bender, yelled, reached in through her open window, grabbed Leo from her lap and threw him into oncoming traffic.

Burnett never took the stand in his own defense, but his lawyer said he grabbed the dog because it bit him on the hand. That defense strategy clearly backfired, prosecutor Troy Benson said.

”Andrew Burnett is the only person in the whole world who would think this was reasonable,” Benson said after the verdict.

McBurnett’s frequent appearances on national television kept the pressure on beleaguered local police.

”The entire nation and the world were so outraged by this,” Benson said.

McBurnett said she was relieved and satisfied. She plans to speak to the court at Burnett’s sentencing.

”It wasn’t just a dog to me,” she said. ”For me it was my child. He killed my baby right in front of me.”

She said that after Leo died, she had him cremated and spread his ashes along the shore of Lake Tahoe.

Burnett’s attorney, Marc Garcia, said his client instinctively snatched the dog from the car after it bit him.

”We were optimistic when this trial began that the court of public opinion would be checked at the door,” Garcia said. But, he said, that was not the case.

”The deck was so stacked against him in this case from Day 1,” Garcia said.

The young man’s fiance said Burnett never got a chance to tell his side of the story due to legal complications.

”I think there is more to the story than was actually said,” said Jackie Figgins. ”The guy is not the animal-hating monster that he has been described as.”

Burnett has been in jail since Jan. 4 on charges connected to the December disappearance of his Pacific Bell repair van, which was filled with $68,000 worth of equipment.

The van plummeted over a 458-foot cliff near ”Devil’s Slide,” a dangerous stretch of road along the coast near about 20 miles San Francisco.

Burnett originally told investigators he had gone over the cliff with the van and then climbed back up the steep coastal bluff – a story he later changed after investigators pointed out he could not have scaled the cliff without climbing equipment.

Authorities initially released a sketch of the suspect, but the case stalled after McBurnett failed to pick Burnett out of two photo lineups. San Jose police said an anonymous e-mail alerted them that Burnett could be a suspect, but gave no further details.

Burnett also faces four charges of perjury for allegedly lying to authorities to get out of speeding tickets, said Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney Al Weger.

Weger’s office will meet with the county’s Humane Society next week to determine how to pay out the $120,000 in reward money.

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