An Iraq war veteran convicted of abusing his neighbors' dogs — including poisoning them and gouging out the eye of a Siberian husky — was sentenced Friday to more than nine years in prison.
Former Navy corpsman David C. Herbert, 37, was also fined $10,000 for his conviction last year of charges linked to repeated attacks against his neighbors’ pets.
The accusations included burning the flesh of two dogs with acid. Another dog is still missing.
Vista Superior Judge Carlos Armour noted that he has worked in the criminal justice system for more than 40 years — including handling murder cases — then called the dog abuse case “particularly shocking.”
This was “a planned and sophisticated effort to bring pain and suffering to other people through the suffering of their pets,” Armour said.
Authorities said Herbert’s computer showed searches for “How to get a dog to drink antifreeze.”
During his sentencing hearing, Herbert, 37, apologized.
“I am sorry that any of this happened,” Herbert said. “God knows I am sorry.”
Police and prosecutors said Herbert repeatedly targeted his next-door neighbors in early 2017, slashing their tires and hurting their dogs with such acts as dumping a caustic chemical on the animals or feeding them poison.
In April of that year, the neighbor and her 4-year-old son came home to find someone had harmed their two huskies. One had had her eye gouged out.
The family quickly moved out of the rental house in north Oceanside.
A new family moved in. The new tenants, a family of six, had two dogs.
Less than 48 hours later, one of the new family’s pets — a 9-year-old golden retriever named Lala — went missing.
A small amount of the missing dog’s blood was found in Herbert’s car.
The judge said it was “cruel and sadistic” that the children whose family pets were harmed “are going to suffer for a very, very long time as a result of Mr. Herbert’s actions.”
“There is no excuse to do what this man did to these families, to the children or their pets,” Amour said.
Last year, a North County jury found Herbert guilty of all 11 charges he had faced, including animal abuse and vandalism.
For the felony crimes, Armour gave Herbert the maximum prison sentence: eight years, nine months.
The judge added a year in jail for misdemeanor vandalism, for slashing his neighbor’s tires. In one instance, two tires popped while the neighbor was driving with one of her children.
Herbert represented himself at trial. After his conviction, he agreed to have an attorney appointed to represent him at sentencing.
A six-year Navy veteran, Herbert had earned a good conduct medal, a combat action ribbon and an honorable discharge. As a corpsman, he treated combat injuries in Iraq.
“He was shot at, withstood mortar attacks every night and dodged grenades,” defense attorney Jim Weintre said in court Friday.
Weintre said his client has “major depressive disorder.”
Before handing down the sentence, Armour heard from the victimized families. Both mothers spoke of living in fear and of their traumatized children.
“How do you explain to a 4-year-old that a human being gets to be so cruel?” said Maria Morales, whose dog Estrella lost her eye.
Michelle Plaketta, the owner of Lala, the dog that disappeared, told the judge that Herbert had “terrorized us.”
“He knew exactly what he was doing,” she said. “He studied it. He looked it up.”
Lala, she said, “is not replaceable. She was with my daughter through the death of her father. She doesn’t have that best friend anymore.”
During trial, Herbert admitted driving off with Lala. She is still missing. Authorities presume she is dead.
After the hearing, Plaketta said she wanted only one thing from Herbert: “Where is Lala?”