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Dog Killer Sent to Prison

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A San Jose judge on Friday threw the book at the man who threw Leo the bichon frise into traffic, sentencing him to the maximum three years in state prison for a road rage incident that left the dog dead and animal lovers outraged.

In sentencing Andrew Burnett, 27, Superior Court Judge Kevin J. Murphy ignored a probation report that recommended a lighter sentence and brushed off Burnett’s apology and plea for leniency.

“If there’s anything I could ever say or do to bring back Leo, I would,” Burnett told the court.

During the 90-minute sentencing hearing in San Jose, Burnett’s mother begged the judge for a lighter sentence for her son, who was convicted of felony animal cruelty three weeks ago.

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But Leo’s owner, Nevada real estate agent Sara McBurnett, exhorted the judge to punish to the fullest extent of the law the man who killed her dog. During the trial last month, the childless McBurnett compared seeing Leo killed with watching the murder of her “baby.”

“Words can never convey the depth of love I had for my dog, Leo,” McBurnett told the judge Friday. Burnett’s “clear intent was to terrorize me in the fastest and most severe way possible.”

Leo was killed near San Jose International Airport on Feb. 11, 2000, after Burnett cut off McBurnett and she bumped into his sport utility vehicle on a rainy Friday night in heavy traffic.

During the short trial, witnesses testified that an angry Burnett stormed to McBurnett’s car door, grabbed Leo and tossed him onto the busy road. But in opening statements during the trial, his attorney, Marc Garcia, said Burnett grabbed Leo only after the dog bit him.

Although McBurnett left her Subaru Legacy and followed Leo into the road to rescue him, she was unsuccessful. The small white dog was struck by a vehicle as his horrified owner looked on.

Burnett was not indicted in the case until more than a year had passed, a time that prosecutors alleged he was hiding from authorities. During that time, dog lovers and others who sympathized with McBurnett’s loss raised $120,000 to help find Leo’s killer.

The former telephone repairman was in jail on unrelated charges when investigators received an anonymous tip that the slender, white, goateed suspect portrayed in police sketches as Leo’s attacker was Burnett.

Leo’s death, combined with several other recent high-profile dog and cat cases in the Bay Area, has raised public and media interest in crimes committed by and against animals.

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Hardly a week goes by without at least one animal story breaking. This week, in addition to Burnett’s sentencing, a Central Valley man was arrested for allegedly dumping four puppies into an agricultural shredding machine because he was tired of the mess they made.

On Friday, McBurnett applauded what she described as the judge’s “good judgment and wisdom.” The message that Murphy sent, she said, is that “animal cruelty will not be tolerated by society. Perpetrators will be prosecuted. Don’t act out against animals.”

The stiff punishment Burnett faces is “not a victory for me,” McBurnett said. “I don’t get my Leo back. But it’s a statement for animal rights and against violence in general. The judge emphasized that it was a crime against Leo and a crime against me.”

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Associated Press contributed to this story.


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