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May 16, 2011

Dog Killer Gets 25 Years

Commendable conviction wins ADA Kimberly Schwartz Prosecutor Recognition Award

  • With the support of DA Greg Winters, ADA Kimberly Schwartz procured a ground-breaking animal cruelty prosecution in Bibb County, Georgia. Fran Norris

by Sherry Ramsey, Esq.

Congratulations to Assistant District Attorney Kimberly S. Schwartz for a successful prosecution of defendant Anthony Bernard Burke for the savage beating death of his dog.

Brutal beating death

The dog, whom Burke had named "Black Girl," had apparently escaped from the heavy logging chain to which she had been tethered. After finding the dog, Burke brought her home and beat her with the hook of the logging chain. 

Her yelping attracted the attentions of neighbors, who called authorities. Although the dog broke free briefly, Burke followed and continued to beat her with a garden hoe until she died.

Animal control officers arrived and took custody of the body, photographed injuries, and ensured a prompt necropsy, which determined the cause of death to be swelling and compression of the brain from blunt force trauma. 

Suspect arrested

Although Burke fled the scene, the Macon Police Department issued a warrant and arrested him 10 days later. 

At the time of his arrest, Burke gave a false name, and after being released on bond, threatened two of the eyewitnesses. Accordingly, Burke was further charged with two counts of Influencing a Witness and one count of Providing False Information to police.

String of difficulties

From the beginning, the case was beset by a string of difficulties that might have discouraged less persistent prosecutors from pursuing justice for this horrific crime.

In addition to the regular string of continuances and time spent obtaining a superseding indictment to include the additional counts, there were other difficulties, including an abortive effort at a negotiated plea deal and delay caused by a new public defender appointment.

Finally, trial was set to commence on January 31. A jury was selected, but the defendant left the courthouse at lunch and never returned. He was finally arrested the following month in possession of a stolen weapon.

By the time the case could resume, one of Schwartz’s key witnesses—the city veterinarian who completed the necropsy—was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. Another key witness was in prison and had been shipped to the courthouse so often for this case that it was impinging on his own release date.

To present the veterinarian for trial, the State had to make special arrangements with the Department of Defense to request him for a day for trial. To get the testimony of the other witness in prison, Schwartz had to make special arrangements to transport him from the state prison for one day to testify. 

The payoff

Fortunately, the hard work paid off. The evidence was so overwhelming that after a day-and-a-half trial, the jury found Burke guilty on all counts. Judge Tilman Self of the Macon Judicial Circuit Court sentenced Burke to a total of 25 years, 15 of which must be served. Of the 25 years, five were for Aggravated Animal Cruelty charge (the maximum), 12 months (to serve concurrently) for Providing False Information, 10 years (to serve consecutively) for Influencing a Witness. He also received 10 years probation for second Influencing a Witness and a $20,000 fine. 

In imposing sentence, Judge Self expressed concern with the viciousness of Burke’s attack and told him that he believed that if Burke would do that to an animal, he would do it to a human. The judge was also concerned about Burke’s attempt to silence the witnesses, and the detrimental effect that such threats have on the criminal justice system as a whole. Fortunately, although his poor dog couldn't fight back, witnesses had the courage to come forward on her behalf to help ensure justice and protect their community.

Justice for the victim  

Reflecting on this case, ADA Schwartz noted,

Sometimes the logistics are more difficult than the actual case. When the logistics become so challenging and the resources are limited, as they are in many places, it’s may be easier to understand why sometimes animal cases get shorter shrift than we’d like for them to.  I’m lucky to have an elected DA, Greg Winters, as a boss who understands the importance of these cases.

Congratulations to all who collaborated in this case: Macon-Bibb Animal Control, the Macon Police, DA Greg Winters and, of course, ADA Kim Schwartz, who made sure this case got presented to a jury. Further appreciation goes to Judge Tilman Self, who understood the implications of this crime and provided justice for the victim. 

Says Schwartz, "Winning this case is the kind of thing that makes everybody feel good and results in increased attention to these cases, which is the most important thing! This is one defendant who won’t be abusing any animals for awhile." 

Well put, ADA Schwartz. 

Sherry Ramsey is director of animal cruelty prosecutions for The HSUS.

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