Trial begins in bizarre road rage dog death case
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – The man accused of tossing a fluffy little dog to his death in traffic reacted after being bitten on the hand, his attorney said Wednesday as trial began in the bizarre case of road rage.
Andrew Burnett is charged with killing or maiming or abusing an animal, a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, after Leo the dog was killed Feb. 11, 2000, near San Jose International Airport.
Burnett’s attorney, Marc Garcia, said in his opening statement that the button-nose bichon frise bit his client on the hand as he gestured for the dog’s owner, Sara McBurnett, to pull over after a rainy-day fender-bender.
”The dog snapped at him. Bit him right on the hand,” Garcia told the jury. Burnett sat quietly in court dressed in a black suit and tie.
Opening statements took the jury back to the incident that launched one of the Bay Area’s most celebrated manhunts.
McBurnett was driving to the airport to pick up her husband that February night when she said a large black truck cut her off. She claims she was unable to stop in time to avoid tapping the rear bumper.
But Garcia said McBurnett rear-ended his client twice, actions that angered the young man as he drove to the airport to pick up his cousin.
The damage was minimal, both sides agreed, but Burnett walked back to the vehicle containing Leo and argued with the dog’s owner before grabbing the animal. Garcia said his client had no idea, after dropping Leo to the ground, that the dog would later die after being struck by several cars.
”He simply walked back to his car, waited for the light to turn green and turned right,” Garcia said. ”The dog was running around in unfamiliar surroundings.”
John Mora, the first witness in the case called by the prosecution, testified that Burnett was livid as he walked back to confront McBurnett and was ”flailing his arms, yelling and stuff.”
Mora testified Burnett threw Leo about 5 feet, and that the dog scampered off across two lanes of traffic before being fatally struck. One juror rolled his eyes and sighed heavily as Mora described the scene.
Garcia said the defense would produce evidence that Mora’s story about the event has changed several times since it occurred.
Garcia said his client has been tailed by people looking for the person responsible for Leo’s death, and that as many as 30 people had followed Burnett’s vehicle and glared at him since descriptions of the car and the suspect were made public.
Deputy District Attorney Troy Benson told the jury Burnett should be held accountable for his callous act. What started as an innocent accident scarred McBurnett’s life, he said.
”She taps the bumper, and when she does that her life is changed,” Benson said.
Both Burnett and McBurnett are expected to testify during the trial.
Burnett, 27, has been jailed in Santa Clara County since mid-December on unrelated charges of grand theft, filing a false document in court and having a dangerous weapon while in jail.
His bail is set at $200,000, and he is awaiting trial on those matters.
He is accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of tools from his employer, Pacific Bell. He also is accused of filing a false document to get out of a speeding ticket, saying he was in Bosnia serving in the military at the time of the incident. Burnett left the Navy in Virginia three years ago.
McBurnett, a real estate agent from Incline Village, Nev., was flooded with condolence messages from dog lovers around the country, especially after she went on Oprah Winfrey’s nationally televised talk show to discuss the incident.
Citizens and well-wishers collected $120,000 in reward funds for information leading to an arrest of Leo’s killer.
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