In a sad and surprising decision, an Iowa Court of Appeals ruling tossed out an animal torture conviction for a man who beat a seven-month-old Boston terrier to death.
Last year Zachary Meerdink was convicted for killing the dog with a baseball bat. According to the Des Moines Register, his girlfriend testified that the dog had accidents in the house and had bitten her and her children. She stated that she saw him leave with the dog, come back with a bat and announce the dog was dead. Police later found the dog’s body nearby.
Following the incident, Meerdink was convicted of animal torture and sentenced to two years in prison.
Unfortunately, this week the Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that prosecutors failed to prove that he acted with “depraved or sadistic intent to cause death” as it’s defined in Iowa’s animal torture law, even though state prosecutors argued that his actions met the “sadistic” intent under the law, which also seems to match public opinion that beating a dog to death with a baseball bat is inherently sadistic.
Judge Anuradha Vaitheswaran countered in a dissenting opinion that “a responsible fact-finder could have found this conduct to be an extreme response to an ordinary and foreseeable occurrence,” reports USA Today.
Chief Judge Larry Eisenhauer and Judge Mary Tabor, who voted to overturn the conviction, noted that he beat the dog to death after trying other measures to change its behavior and there was no evidence to prove he got any pleasure out of it.
However, there’s no mention of what he actually tried to do to modify the dog’s behavior. Either way, a failure to housebreak a dog can’t be considered as a justification for killing one and whether or not he got pleasure out of it should be equally irrelevant.
“After considering the definitions of ‘depraved,’ we conclude ‘depraved intent to cause death’ does not equal an ‘intent to cause death,’” Eisenhauer wrote. “Here, the state proved Meerdink killed the dog; however, no one saw Meerdink kill the dog, and no testimony or exhibits and no reasonable inferences or presumptions from the testimony and exhibits sufficiently prove Meerdink acted with a depraved intent to cause death.”
No proof? How can there not be anything about his actions that are not inherently sadistic or depraved? What did he think would happen when he took a baseball bat to a small dog?
“I have some great difficulty understanding how you can beat a puppy to death and not have sadistic intent,” said Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin. “How could it not be sadistic? … It would seem as if this calls for an outcry.”
The outcome here has also raised concerns about how this ruling will affect future cases of animal abuse. Polk County Attorney John Sarcone said the verdict will make it harder to bring new animal torture cases to court and that prosecutors will need more than a death to get a conviction.
Tom Colvin, director of the Animal Rescue League, said the laws need to be changed when it comes to the definition of animal abuse and torture and that provisions for psychological evaluation and treatment should be added to the language, in addition to banning ownership of animals for abusers. He also said that this and another incident have made getting this done a priority.
A spokesman for the Iowa Attorney General’s Office told the Des Moines Register that state lawyers haven’t decided whether they want to seek further review by the Iowa Supreme Court.
Iowa, incidentally, is ranked by the Animal Legal Defense Fund as one of the worst five states for animal protection.
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