The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

November 30, 2011

Dog shooting trial takes twist

HUNTSVILLE — The brother of a New Waverly man on trial for animal cruelty admitted that he initially lied to investigators to keep from going to jail.

Arturo Hernandez testified in district court on Wednesday that his brother, Alfonso Hernandez, hasn’t really killed another dog prior to the April 1, 2009, shooting of a service dog belonging to local war hero Marcus Luttrell — a lie he said he told a Texas Ranger investigating the dog’s death.

Alfonso Hernandez is facing a state jail felony charge of cruelty to non-livestock animals for his role in the death of DASY, a Labrador retriever given to Luttrell to help heal emotional wounds after the Navy SEAL returned home from the war in Afghanistan. Tuesday, Michael Edmonds, one of four men in a car apprehended fleeing the scene of the shooting, pleaded guilty to shooting the dog. The Walker County District Attorney’s office has charged Alfonso Hernandez as an accomplice.

Texas Ranger Steve Jeter testified Tuesday that Arturo Hernandez told him during an interview after the death of DASY that Alfonso Hernandez had bragged about killing a dog before. Arturo Hernandez also told Jeter that Edmonds shot DASY even though he said on the stand Wednesday he did not see who shot the dog.

“I did not want to get in trouble. (Jeter) told me I was going to go to jail,” Arturo Hernandez said.

Arturo Hernandez also said he lied to Jeter about his brother killing another dog because he “wanted to save his butt.”

“I threw (Alfonso Hernandez) under the bus because we weren’t getting along at the time,” Arturo Hernandez said.

Edmonds, the confessed gunman, continued his testimony Wednesday morning. On Tuesday, Edmonds testified that he and Caleb McGough and Alfonso and Arturo Hernandez were driving around in a car on Four Notch Road in the early hours of April, 1 2009, when a dog (DASY) began chasing the car. Edmonds said he shot it with a .357-caliber handgun, which he later tossed out of the window.

Edmonds said the others wanted to turn around and go back to look at the dog. That is when Edmonds said Alfonso Hernandez got out of the car and began hitting the dog with a wooden bat, which was not recovered when the four men were stopped by an Onalaska police officer an hour after the shooting.

Edmonds also said that before he and Alfonso Hernandez picked up McGough and Arturo Hernandez, that Alfonso Hernandez shot another dog earlier in the evening.

Stephenie Vallie, a former service dog trainer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and owner of Magnolia Boarding Kennel of Huntsville, testified Wednesday that after examining pictures of DASY’s remains, she determined the dog showed signs that it did not die instantly after it was shot.

“The way the dog has its mouth slightly open means it was not an instant death,” Vallie said.

Vallie also testified that there were marks on the animal, which she said she could not tell were old or new, that looked like injuries she had seen on a narcotics dog that had been beaten with a bat.

Defense Attorney Fritz Barnett asked Vallie if she was an expert in gunshot wounds or necropsy (animal autopsy) and if she was guessing about what had caused the injuries to DASY.

“No sir. I’m not guessing,” Vallie replied. “I’m going with experience.”

Arturo Hernandez’s testimony about what happened that night conflicted with the one  Edmonds told. He said that Edmonds and Alfonso Hernandez picked him and McGough up and that they went riding around and smoking marijuana.

Arturo Hernandez said that with McGough driving, the group turned down Four Notch Road and a dog was chasing the car. He said that was when a gun went off and that Edmonds told McGough to turn the car around to go back to see what he got.

Edmonds was the only one who got out of the car, according to Arturo Hernandez, and he began laughing at the sight of the dog. Arturo Hernandez said his brother did not get out of the car and that there was no baseball bat.

Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Stroud said that Arturo Hernandez had told her prior to his testimony Wednesday that he had done too many drugs that night to remember what happened. Arturo Hernandez admitted on the stand that they had smoked $40 worth of marijuana that night.

After the shooting, Luttrell followed the four men in a high-speed chase through Walker and San Jacinto counties. Former Onalaska Police Department patrol officer Lee Harris testified Wednesday that he got a call about the incident over dispatch and that he set up on Highway 190 near the Lake Livingston bridge to intercept the suspects’ car.

Harris said he clocked a car —traveling at more than 100 mph— that was being followed by a truck that matched the description of the vehicle driven by the man who had called 911 claiming his dog had been shot. Harris turned on his lights and began to pursue the first vehicle, and that is when the car being driven by McGough pulled over.

Edmonds testified Wednesday that Luttrell was brandishing pistols and threatened to kill the four men when they were pulled over by police. Harris said he did not hear Luttrell make any threats and that Luttrell told him he was his backup. Luttrell did show Harris a pistol in his waistband, which Harris secured inside his patrol vehicle.

“I did not feel threatened by Mr. Luttrell,” Harris said. “The only time he yelled was when he said that he was there to back me up.”

Harris said that he recovered a double-barreled shotgun in the car the suspects were riding in, but no other weapons were found. McGough, who was subpoenaed to testify in the trial but did not show up, was charged with having no driver’s license and driving more than 100 mph in a 55 mph zone at the scene.

Luttrell is expected to take the witness stand when the trial resumes today.

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