Sentencing delayed in death of Yorkie

Becky Campbell • Sep 4, 2012 at 9:47 PM

A Washington County man who pleaded guilty to killing Honey, the four-pound Yorkshire Terrier mix that was his family’s pet, testified Tuesday he never would have committed the act if he hadn’t been on bath salts and cocaine.

Dustin Ricky Harrell, 22, 1125 Old State Road, Gray, told Criminal Court Judge Robert Cupp that he began using drugs at an early age to escape the pain of being sexually abused by his biological father and the night Honey died he was upset over past events in his life.

“I started thinking about events in the past. That got me upset and angry at the same time,” Harrell said, but he never really explained what possessed him to retrieve Honey from under his mother and stepfather’s bed and begin torturing the dog until she died in his arms.

Harrell was in court Tuesday for sentencing on an aggravated animal cruelty charge. He pleaded guilty to that charge in May. The charge stems from a Nov. 3 incident at his home in which he tortured and comforted Honey over and over until she died.

It started when Harrell threw the dog down the stairs and continued when he held her head underwater multiple times, then put her in the clothes dryer.

As the dog was spinning in the dryer for four minutes, Harrell did an Internet search for “dog in dryer,” according to testimony Tuesday. Then he threw the dog down on the floor, which he told investigators is when the dog’s leg broke.

To aid the dog, Harrell then got an Icy Hot sleeve to put on her leg and used painter’s tape to keep her from crying.

After the dog quieted down, Harrell took the tape off and within a few minutes, Honey died in his arms.

Cupp did not impose a sentence, however, and said he needed time to look at case law before determining what he will do. That will also give the state and defense time to obtain a background check on Harrell to see if he is eligible for judicial diversion.

A diversion ruling would allow Harrell to eventually have the conviction removed from his record, but Cupp gave no indication if he was leaning toward that type of sentence. Harrell faces one to two years in prison for the Class E felony conviction, but it’s highly unlikely he could serve that behind bars.

Assistant District Attorney General Erin McArdle told Cupp that she wasn’t asking the judge to put Harrell in jail for an extended period of time, but believes Harrell should serve some of that sentence. McArdle also asked the judge to impose an extended period of supervision on Harrell.

Harrell’s attorney, Jim Bowman, argued that his client deserves to be treated with the same leniency of others charged with animal cruelty. He cited a 2008 case that is still pending in Judge Lynn Brown’s court in which a defendant was told an animal cruelty charge will be dismissed if he paid a $2,000 vet bill to treat two pit bulls he failed to feed.

McArdle and Bowman butted heads on the comparison with her saying the cases were too different for the judge to review — the 2008 case is a misdemeanor that involved failure to care for the animals while Harrell’s charge is a felony and involves the animal’s death — while Bowman said the DA’s office should treat all defendants with the same fairness.

That prompted Cupp to comment on a case involving a local heart doctor being granted judicial diversion after being convicted of using Lortab while operating on patients. Cupp said he never would have allowed that disposition in a case like that, but pointed to the irony that Harrell could face a stiffer outcome.

All that aside, Cupp ultimately decided he needed to review case law before ruling on Harrell’s sentence.

Harrell spent four days in jail after being arrested in November for Honey’s death and since then has completed two drug treatment programs, one in-patient and one out-patient.

Harrell’s mother and stepfather, Tonya and Ricky Harrell, testified that they called 911 about Honey’s death after Dustin’s story about the dog getting hit by a car didn’t sound right.

Tonya Harrell discovered blood on her son’s mattress and found blue painter’s tape in the shape of a dog’s muzzle in a bathroom trash can. A family friend who lived with them at the time also told Tonya Harrell that she had discovered the dog at the bottom of the steps that night.

Harrell’s ex-girlfriend, Brittany Holden, testified that Harrell called her several times that night and left messages on her phone. McArdle played three of those messages in which Harrell sounded like he was crying and wanted Holden to call him back because he had “found Honey in the road dead. She took her last breath in my arms.”

Cupp’s assessment of the calls was that Harrell killed the dog to get sympathy from Holden.

“I’m not going to buy you did that to that little dog because you were using drugs. You were doing it to get her attention,” Cupp said.

Harrell’s stepfather, Ricky Harrell, testified that his son began having behavioral problems when he was around 12 or 13 — the age Dustin said he began using drugs — and there didn’t seem to be any help for Dustin.

Dustin worked for the family business after high school, Ricky Harrell said, but would work a few days and then not show up for several days.

It wasn’t until his arrest for killing Honey that Dustin Harrell made any real attempt to get sober, both he and his parents testified.

Harrell has obtained his CDL and is working as a truck driver. He said if he has to go to jail, his job is “gone,” but that he’ll “pick up the pieces and move on.”

Harrell assured Cupp he would never handle a situation in the same way.

“I can’t do down that road again,” he said, going on to say he couldn’t put his family through that again. When Cupp noted that Harrell did not say anything about never harming an animal in that way again, Harrell spoke up to tell the judge he would not treat any living thing like that again.

Throughout his testimony, Harrell acknowledged it was wrong to kill Honey, but never really got to the point of apologizing to anyone for his actions.

He did agree with his attorney’s statements that he was remorseful for killing Honey.

At one point Harrell said, “of course I feel bad ... I was very down but I wasn’t being a man and telling the truth” to his parents.

Cupp reset the case for noon on Sept. 11, but that could change if the background check isn’t complete by then.

Recommended for You

    Johnson City Press Videos