The man accused of tossing a fluffy little dog to his death in traffic reacted after being bitten on the hand, his attorney said Wednesday as the trial began in the bizarre case of road rage.
Andrew Burnett is charged with killing or maiming or abusing an animal, a felony punishable by up to three years in prison, after Leo the dog was killed Feb. 11, 2000, near San Jose International Airport.
Burnett's attorney, Marc Garcia, said in his opening statement that the bichon frise bit his client on the hand as he gestured for the dog's owner, Sara McBurnett, to pull over after a rainy-day fender-bender.
"The dog snapped at him. Bit him right on the hand," Garcia told the jury. Burnett sat quietly in court dressed in a black suit and tie.
Opening statements took the jury back to the incident that launched one of the Bay Area's most celebrated manhunts.
McBurnett was driving to the airport to pick up her husband that night when she said a large black truck cut her off. She said she was unable to stop in time to avoid tapping the rear bumper.
But Garcia said McBurnett rear-ended his client twice, actions that angered Burnett as he drove to the airport to pick up his cousin.
The damage was minimal, both sides agreed, but Burnett walked back to the vehicle containing Leo and argued with the dog's owner before grabbing the animal. Garcia said his client had no idea, after dropping Leo to the ground, that the dog would later die after being struck by several cars.
"He simply walked back to his car, waited for the light to turn green and turned right," Garcia said.
"The dog was running around in unfamiliar surroundings."