The trial of Ojai newspaper publisher Darrow (Duke) Tully for cruelty to animals hung on a simple question: Had he used only necessary force to protect himself and his property when he shot a neighbor's dog with a pellet gun?
However, by the time a Municipal Court jury found Tully guilty Thursday, the trial had raised questions about whether the prosecution was a waste of money. And it had again focused public attention on the controversial journalist.
Tully gained notoriety in 1985 when he resigned as publisher of Arizona's two largest newspapers after admitting he had lied for 30 years about being a decorated combat pilot.
A fit-looking 58-year-old with a military bearing, Tully was convicted on a single misdemeanor count of animal cruelty and placed on probation for six months. A judge also ordered his pellet gun destroyed.
Jurors said they found the case difficult to decide partly because fine legal points sometimes were blurred by concerns about whether Tully should have been tried at all.
On the key legal point, the jury concluded that Tully, who testified that his pellet gun is a toy used by his 6-year-old stepson, was not in any real danger during the October incident and had reached too quickly for the weapon.
He admitted to mistakenly wounding a small terrier while trying to "sting" a larger dog that had snarled at him in his yard--thereby legally establishing his intent to wound an animal.
On the broader issues, juror John McCarthy said he and others on the panel sympathized with Tully's problems with roving dogs and wondered why the neighbors' dispute had not been resolved without a costly trial.
"After the trial, a lot of us were thinking that there may have been some pressure to bear in bringing these charges," said McCarthy, a geophysicist from Ojai. "My own feeling all along was that he was tried because he was a person of some prominence. I just wondered, 'How did it get to that stage?' These are things that can be settled between neighbors."
The juror noted that a sheriff's deputy testified that Mary Bishop, the 67-year-old owner of the wounded dog, had only wanted the officer to talk to Tully without writing a report on the incident. The Humane Society of Ventura County filed a cruelty complaint with the district attorney last November after the organization received a call from Bishop's son, a spokesman said.
Tully, who was named editor and publisher of the triweekly Ojai Valley News in 1987, said he thought the trial was fair and the prosecution not malicious. But he said he had spoken to five jurors after the verdict and they agreed that the trial was a waste of taxpayers' money.
"Every single one I talked to said it shouldn't have come to trial . . . but that they had to go by the technical points" of the law and find him guilty, Tully said.
Tully faced a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a $20,000 fine. Judge Bruce A. Clark imposed neither, placing him on probation and ordering him to pay restitution of $240 for the wounded dog's surgery, a fee that Tully said he had been willing to pay since the incident.
A Municipal Court trial costs several thousand dollars a day to conduct, said Presiding Judge Lee E. Cooper Jr., and Tully's trial lasted four days, including one for jury deliberation.
The issue of why Tully was tried surfaced even during the trial, when Deputy Dist. Atty. Mark R. Pachowicz mentioned it during his closing argument:
"We've spent three days figuring out whether or not Mr. Tully had the right to shoot a dog because he crapped on his lawn. . . . You may be thinking, 'Is this the criminal justice system?' "
Pachowicz argued that even though Tully did not kill Baby, the 12-year-old cockapoo terrier he shot between the eyes, the case was important. An acquittal would tell the public, he said, that it is open season on animals that wander.
After the verdict, the prosecutor said the decision "shows the community that there are certain ways to handle problems. The right way is not to pull a gun and shoot a dog."
In interviews during the trial, Humane Society officers said they had asked the district attorney to prosecute the case, despite the dog owner's reluctance, because it was an example of severe abuse and could be proved.
The Humane Society receives about 700 complaints of animal abuse a year in Ventura County but asks the district attorney to file charges in only about a dozen, said Robert J. Hoffman, spokesman for the nonprofit agency. The district attorney decides whether the case is worth prosecuting.
Hoffman said the Tully case was the first to be filed in more than six years that involved the shooting of a roving dog. "It's really one of the first times anyone has given us eyewitness accounts. It's the first one we felt would fly."
The prosecution's case was accepted by the jury in part because of Tully's own admissions and his apparent lack of remorse, juror McCarthy said.
Tully testified that he told deputies he was justified in shooting at a large Labrador retriever, which he said had growled, bared its teeth and raised the hair on its back when he tried to open a gate to release three neighborhood dogs trapped in his yard.
Tully said he retreated, returned with a pellet gun and fired at the rump of the larger dog. He missed and the lead pellet compressed against the terrier's skull between its eyes.
"I said that under the circumstances, I'd do exactly the same thing again," Tully testified.
During 1 1/2 hours on the stand, Tully was direct, detailed and colorful. In describing the morning of the shooting, he volunteered that he sleeps in the nude, usually gets out of bed at 6:55 a.m. and shaves with a straight razor.
He said he keeps three handguns in his house and could have used one of them if he had wanted to hurt the dogs. But that would have been "like using a cannon to kill an ant," he said.
Describing the dog he shot, he said, "It's a little dog. I'm not usually afraid of little dogs."
At one point, referring to his pellet gun, Tully told the prosecutor that he had "offered to let people shoot me with it since the incident to see what it feels like. And I offer you the same opportunity."
Pachowicz responded: "That's very gracious of you."
McCarthy said that despite Tully's "macho" comments, the jury saw him as a highly believable witness.
"We may have not liked his demeanor, he was a little arrogant and he felt self-righteous in what he did, but he was considered the most reliable witness," the juror said.
Tully's credibility was important because both Pachowicz and defense attorney George C. Eskin argued in closing that either Tully or his neighbor, Bishop, had lied on the stand.
Although Tully insisted that he neither saw nor spoke to the woman until after he had shot the terrier, she testified that she had pleaded with him not to shoot her dog or the Labrador, which was owned by her son.
Tully said he would not appeal the sentence.
"I am considering my own legal action," he said, refusing to elaborate.
He said, however, that Bishop had offered to settle out of court for about $3,000 the week before the trial.
Bishop denied offering a settlement and referred all questions to Pachowicz.
"Any comments made by Mrs. Bishop in that vein," Pachowicz said, "were made without our authority and were not at our request."
A settlement between Bishop and Tully would have had "no effect on our desire to prosecute," he said.