A Virginia man will serve five years in prison without parole for the death of a pit bull that was tied to a fence, covered in lighter fluid and set on fire.
Richmond police announced Wednesday that the sentence was part of 20-year-old Jyahshua A. Hill’s plea agreement.
The dog was found at a park in February and treated by Richmond Animal Care and Control, which named him Tommie.
The shelter shared a picture showing Tommie covered in bandages and casts while snuggling a stuffed animal. He died just days later.
His case prompted widespread outrage and brought in donations for the city shelter.
The police department says Hill is also barred from owning or possessing animals for life. Animal control officers will periodically check at Hill’s address, once he’s released, to ensure that no pets are living there.
‘It’s a victory for animal rights activists and Tommie’s memory,’ prosecutor Denise Anderson said after the hearing Wednesday.
Hill was arrested in February and charged with felony animal cruelty and later released.
At the time he claimed that he ‘blacked out’ and flew into a fit of rage after the two-year-old dog bit his toddler daughter.
‘The dog attacked my daughter and I snapped. I did what I had to do to protect my kids from the dog,’ he told WTVR. ‘The dog was too vicious to be around other dogs.’
Hill said he’d owned the dog named Choo Choo for a few months before the incident, and claimed that it was not the first time the pet had attacked one of his family members.
Hill claims he blacked out because of his diagnosed schizophrenia and bipolar disorder and insists that he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time.
He admitted to taking the dog to Abner Clay Park with the express purpose of dousing him in lighter fluid and setting him on fire.
In court, Anderson said Hill’s torture of Tommie was caught on camera from the time Hill left his home and walked five blocks to Abner Clay Park.
‘He was dragging and jerking the dog by its leash,’ Anderson detailed in court. ‘He was yelling things like, ‘You’ll get yours.”
The video follows Hill to Abner Clay Park, where he poured lighter fluid on the dog and set him ablaze.
‘While the defendant fled on foot, the dog ran in circles trying to escape its agony,’ Anderson said.
Hill’s fingerprints were found on a discarded bottle of lighter fluid that was recovered by investigators.
‘This particular case is the epitome of cruelty,’ Anderson said after the hearing to Richmond.com. ‘If any case warranted five years, this is it.’
The charred pup was found clinging to life on February 10 by members of the Richmond Fire Department, who named him Tommie.
Tommie suffered burns over 40 percent of his body and required intravenous fluids and a feeding tube for nutrition.
The staff at Richmond Animal Care and Control posted regular updates on his condition, prompting a huge reaction from the community as a fund to cover Tommie’s medical costs reached over $25,000.
Sadly, the dog died five days later.
The money raised for Tommie has since been devoted to providing emergency care for other animals in need.
‘I know what I did was wrong, and I’m sorry cause I took it that far, but I did what I had to do to protect my kid,’ Hill said during a June hearing.
Hill’s wife, whose identity has been withheld because her family was receiving death threats, initially denied her husband’s involvement in the dog’s death but has since changed her tune.
‘Did he do it? Yeah, he did it,’ she said. ‘Why did he do it? To protect his daughter, to protect his family.’
Christie Peters, the Director of Richmond Animal Care and Control told 8News on Monday Tommie’s case of animal cruelty is the worst she had seen in her 15 years of working in the sector.
‘It’s the most evil, I would say, there’s an element of evil and a sadness that have overtaken all of the other cases we’ve dealt with,’ Peters said.
Speaking after the verdict was delivered, Peters said she hoped that the strong sentence would send a message.
‘Justice was served today,’ Peters said. ‘We don’t often get closure.’
‘We’re the voice for the animals. I think the voice was loud and clear today. I’m hopeful that people might think a little bit differently about things they may want to do in the state of Virginia to animals because we have really robust laws that allow us to prosecute in this manner.
‘I’m hopeful that it sends a message that we don’t play around, and that if you hurt an animal, we’ll find you,’ Peters said.
Public anger over the dog’s death prompted Virginia lawmakers to pass legislation dubbed ‘Tommie’s Law’, which made animal cruelty a felony in Virginia.
Prior to the legislation being passed, an animal had to die as a direct result of the torture or inhumane injury before a suspect faced a felony charge.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Megan Sheets and James Gordon