Guilty plea entered in Jonesborough dog torture-killing

Becky Campbell • May 30, 2012 at 10:26 PM

The man accused of killing Honey, a four-pound Yorkshire Terrier mix that was his family’s pet, told a judge Wednesday during a plea hearing he had no excuse for his behavior but revealed he was using drugs and alcohol at the time.

Dustin Ricky Harrell, 22, 1125 Old Stage Road, pleaded guilty to aggravated animal cruelty with no agreement from state prosecutors on his sentence.

Harrell’s attorney, Jim Bowman, told Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp his client is eligible for judicial diversion. Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle said after the hearing that she intends to seek a jail term for Harrell because of the magnitude of the crime.

The incident happened Nov. 3, apparently during the night as Harrell’s family slept.

McArdle said statements from family members indicate Harrell retrieved Honey from his mother and stepfather’s bedroom that night, saying she needed to go out.

Four hours later, he told them the dog was dead after being hit by a car. But Honey’s ordeal didn’t happen outside. It occurred inside the house where she lived.

In his description of what happened, Harrell told Cupp he threw the dog down the stairs, held her head under water and put her in the clothes dryer. He said the incident took place over 3½ to 4 hours.

“I killed and tortured my family dog,” Harrell said. “I could tell you what I did to cause my actions, but everything was a choice.”

Cupp asked Harrell “what could possess you?” to hurt and kill the dog in that manner.

Harrell said he was using heroin, bath salts, pain pills and alcohol.

Since killing the dog, Harrell sought alcohol and drug treatment and through that learned how abuse at the hands of a family member led him down a path of destructive behavior.

The abuse occurred when Harrell was a child and was not committed by his mother or stepfather.

Animal rights supporters were in court to hear Harrell admit to killing Honey and said he still needs to be punished for his actions.

Regina Isenberg, founder of The Bridge Home No Kill Animal Rescue, located in Blountville, said she was glad to see Harrell plead guilty, but “what else can you do when you’re charged and (they) have pictures?”

“We do not tolerate animal abuse in our area. We will stand up for all the animals. This is our responsibility as caring, compassionate citizens,” Isenberg said.

She also said her support for animals should not be mistaken for not caring for children who are victims of crime.

“There are many organizations that represent children. I worked for many years with children,” and child abuse “is not acceptable,” she said. “If I had more than 24 hours, I would sit for all the kids.”

Harrell is now scheduled for a sentencing hearing July 10 at 9 a.m.

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