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Dog Killing Brings Term of 60 Days, Probation : Courts: Fullerton man who taped animal’s muzzle to quiet barking must also buy food for dogs of AIDS sufferers as part of community service.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A Fullerton man who pleaded no contest to charges that he killed a neighbor’s dog by taping its mouth shut was sentenced Wednesday to 60 days’ confinement and ordered to make restitution by buying food for dogs owned by people with AIDS.

Municipal Judge Richard E. Behn also sentenced Robert Steven Sakall, 39, to 250 hours of community service and three years of probation. The community service should be related to the care of animals, Behn said. Sakall’s confinement might be served at home because he has spinal injuries, the judge said.

As part of Sakall’s community service, the County Probation Department recommended that he pay $25 a week for three months to the AIDS Services Foundation, which, among other programs, helps people with AIDS take care of their pets. Behn approved the idea.

“I have a dog. . . . If I lost him, I don’t know how I would feel,” Behn told Jeff and Debbie Hutchison, Sakall’s neighbors, whose 5-year-old golden retriever died. “I have great sympathy for you.”

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Sakall did not attend the sentencing because of extreme back pain, said his attorney, Robert Tuller.

“Mr. Sakall is extremely distraught,” Tuller said. “He was heartsick when he found out that the dog died.”

Tuller said in court that he and his client have received death threats since Sakall was charged with the crime.

Sakall pleaded no contest in February to charges of animal cruelty. Sakall told Fullerton police investigators that the animal’s barking gave him painful headaches, and that he meant to quiet the animal, not kill it, by taping its muzzle, according to police.

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Tuller told the judge that his client was injured at work and has been housebound for the last two years from pain. Numerous surgeries have done nothing, and now Sakall cannot sit or stand, but must remain lying down, Tuller said.

Even so, Behn called the muzzling of the dog “mean-spirited.”

The dog died because it was unable to pant to release heat. Its temperature rose to 108, according to a veterinarian who examined the dog.

The Hutchisons said after the sentencing that their children are still upset by the loss of the family dog, named Dylan. Jeff Hutchison said his children have asked him, “ ‘If we get a dog again, can we get one that doesn’t bark, Daddy?’ ”

The Hutchisons have said that Dylan was never noisy and suggested that Sakall may have killed the wrong dog. Another neighbor has a German shepherd that could have been the irritant, they said.

Assistant Dist. Atty. Mary Anne McCauley said she was pleased with the sentence. She said she will ask the Probation Department to make Sakall serve his 60 days in jail rather than under electronic surveillance at home.

Sakall was ordered to report to County Jail on May 18. He also must pay $500 restitution for the dog and $213.75 for emergency medical fees, in addition to buying dog food.


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