A sentencing hearing for a Gray man who pleaded guilty to torturing his family’s dog to death while high on bath salts and cocaine was delayed for a third time Wednesday because his defense attorney is representing former Unicoi County Sheriff Kent Harris in Harris’ criminal trial in Erwin.
Dustin Ricky Harrell, 22, 1125 Old State Road, is facing a two to four-year sentence for aggravated animal cruelty. He pleaded guilty to the charge in May and was initially scheduled for sentencing in September.
Judge Robert Cupp began hearing testimony to determine Harrell’s sentence Sept. 4 but delayed his ruling, saying he needed more time to study previous rulings in similar cases. The hearing was set to continue Oct. 30 but was postponed because a background investigation had not been completed to determine if Harrell is eligible for judicial diversion, which would allow him to serve his sentence on probation and to have the conviction removed from his record.
The hearing was set to resume Wednesday morning in Washington County Criminal Court but was rescheduled for Jan. 7 after Harrell’s attorney, James T. Bowman, notified the court the Harris trial was under way in Erwin and would continue throughout the day.
Harrell testified in September he was using drugs on the night of Nov. 3, 2011, and was upset about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child when he retrieved his family’s pet, a 4-pound Yorhshire Terrier mix named Honey, from beneath a bed and set about a several-hour course of torture that resulted in her death.
Harrell testified he threw the dog down a stairway, held her head underwater multiple times, put her in a clothes dryer and allowed her to spin in the dryer for four minutes while he searched the Internet for “dog in dryer.”
He said he also threw the dog on the floor, breaking her leg, placed an Icy Hot sleeve on her fractured limb, then wrapped her snout in tape to keep her from crying. He said he removed the tape when the dog stopped crying and a few minutes later she died in his arms.
Harrell’s ex-girlfriend testified he left several messages on her phone on the night of incident in which he sounded like he was crying and asked her to call him because he had “found Honey in the road dead” and “she took her last breaths in my arms.”
Harrell’s mother and stepfather testified he also told them the dog was hit by a car. They said they reported the incident to police after they found blood, tape fashioned in the shape of a dog muzzle and other evidence in their home.
At the conclusion of the testimony, Cupp told Harrell he did not believe he tortured and killed the dog because he was using drugs but committed the crimes in order to get his ex-girlfriend’s attention.
Harrell served four days in jail following his arrest and has since completed two drug rehabilitation programs.