Man loses appeal of animal abuse convictions after hitting, shooting dog

The Court of Appeals of Indiana has upheld a man’s conviction for hitting and shooting his dog, finding the evidence did not support his claim that he was trying to put the animal down to protect his neighbors.

Joseph Stubbers III was convicted of two counts of torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal as Class A misdemeanors after he beat his dog, Cooper, in the head with a hammer then shot him twice. Neighbors described the 180-pound dog as a “gentle giant” who gave “slobbery kisses.”

However, Stubbers claimed Cooper bit him, so he was trying to put the animal down. Law enforcement who responded to neighbors’ calls found Cooper in his doghouse “seriously wounded.” Theytracked Stubbers down at a party, where they did not see any indication of a bite.

Cooper was taken to a nonprofit animal shelter in Lawrenceburg, where he was treated and diagnosed as having bullet wounds and a skull fracture along with a right eye that “wasn’t there anymore.” He was transported to a clinic where he underwent a long recuperation and was eventually adopted by an employee of that clinic.

During a three-day jury trial, Stubbers repeated his claim that Cooper bit him, so he decided to put the dog down to protect his neighbors.

On appeal, Stubbers argued, in part, that the state did not present any evidence to support his conviction for shooting Cooper. He contended he did not intend to mutilate or torture his dog but wanted to put him down.

The Court of Appeals recounted the evidence presented at trial.

“In the present case, Stubbers fired a .40 caliber handgun at Cooper’s head,” Judge Elizabeth Tavitas wrote for the appellate court. “From this evidence, the jury could reasonably conclude that when Stubbers shot Cooper’s head, he was aware of a high probability that the resulting wound would cause injury that meets the definition of mutilate, i.e., permanent loss of a bodily member or organ or permanent disfigurement. Stubbers’ argument that he was trying to put Cooper down is simply a request that we reweigh the evidence, which we cannot do.”

The appellate court also was not persuaded by Stubbers’ citation to A.J.R. v. State, 3 N.E.3d 1000 (Ind. Ct. App. 2014).

In that case, a 17-year-old fired a rifle from a car into a herd of cattle, killing two. The teenager was found to be a delinquent juvenile for committee what would be torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal if committed by an adult.

However, the Court of Appeals overturned the conviction on the ground that there was no evidence that the teenager targeted either cow in a way that would result in serious disfigurement, protracted impairment of a body part or organ or a fracture.

“We find A.J.R. to be readily distinguishable from the facts of the case at bar,” Tavitas wrote. “Here, Stubbers did not randomly shoot at a group of animals at a distance. He shot his own dog at a close range, destroying the animal’s eye.

“Nor were the injuries to Cooper small or unidentifiable as in A.J.R.,” Tavitas continued. “To the contrary, the photos of Cooper’s injuries that were admitted at trial, and included in the record on appeal, vividly depict the horrific nature of the injury inflicted by Stubbers.”

The case is Joseph J. Stubbers III v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2159.

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