WILKES-BARRE — A city man pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges today for severely beating his fiancee’s 12-pound Pomeranian dog last fall.
Justin Charles Baker, 24, entered his plea before Luzerne County Judge David W. Lupas.
According to a police affidavit, officials with the SPCA of Luzerne County received a referral call on Nov. 10 from a veterinary hospital about an injured dog that had been brought in the previous day.
The dog’s owner, Jessica Muzzy, said that the dog, named Frankie, was afraid of Baker, the affidavit states.
Attorney Mark Singer, who served as Baker’s public defender, said his client is an Iraq war veteran who is contrite about his actions, has undergone counseling and is more than willing to pay for medical bills incurred in the case.
“He had some anger issues. He took it out on the dog,” Singer said.
Attorney Garry Taroli, who serves on the SPCA board, served as special prosecutor in the case at the direction of District Attorney Stefanie Salavantis.
As Baker approached the dog, Frankie ran upstairs at the couple’s Prospect Street home, defecating as he ran. Baker then picked up the animal, which bit him on the hand, the affidavit states.
“Mr. Baker then pinned the dog to the floor with his full weight by placing his knee in the middle of the dog’s body and began beating the dog,” the affidavit states.
As Muzzy tried to pull Baker off of Frankie, Baker twice picked up the dog and threw him onto the floor, investigators said.
Muzzy was able to rescue Frankie from Baker, and noticed that the dog was bleeding and unable to move his back legs.
Frankie was diagnosed with swelling, abrasions, bruising, internal bleeding, head trauma, a punctured lung and four fractured foot bones, documents state.
In his affidavit, SPCA officer Wayne Harvey asked the court to order “restitution for the cost of medical care needed to repair Frankie.”
Lupas ordered Baker to pay $1,785 in restitution, in addition to a $750 fine and costs.
The SPCA had been seeking jail time, while Baker had been seeking admission into the Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program.
The judge ruled that Baker will serve 12 months’ probation in connection with the attack, and both attorneys told The Times Leader that they felt the resolution was appropriate.
“While we had requested incarceration due to the intentional and vicious attack on a small, defenseless, and otherwise sweet dog, we fully understand and appreciate that Judge Lupas’ decision was in accordance with the sentencing guidelines and was carefully considered and well thought out,” Taroli wrote in an e-mail later Wednesday.
Lupas also ordered Baker to perform 25 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the SPCA. He also is forbidden from owning any domestic animals.
Prosecuting attorney Taroli also pointed out that Baker is required to undergo a mental health evaluation and follow-up with any recommendations as to treatment.
Defense attorney Singer said Baker suggested performing that community service at the SPCA, but the agency rejected that idea.
Baker did not have any prior criminal record, Singer noted. He also said it was Baker who drove Muzzy to the animal hospital with the injured dog.
“The dog is thriving, it’s living,” Singer added.
More than that, Frankie is living with someone else, according to Taroli
“He’s been fixed up and adopted by a family that thinks he’s terrific,” Taroli said.
Neither attorney could say whether or not Baker and Muzzy remain in a relationship.