Man admits dragging dog to death
DENVER — A Grand Junction man Thursday pleaded guilty to dragging a stolen dog to death in the Colorado National Monument last December, a case that has attracted worldwide attention.
Steven Clay Romero, 38, changed his plea to guilty to a single charge of aggravated animal cruelty that could leave him with a maximum prison term of three years and up to $100,000 in fines. He is to be sentenced July 30.
Wearing an orange, prison-issued jumpsuit, Romero said little during the hearing other than, “Yes, your honor,” “No, your honor,” to questions from District Judge Philip Brimmer about his plea.
At the beginning of the hearing, Brimmer told Romero to raise his right hand to be sworn in.
Romero raised his left, but immediately switched hands after his court-appointed attorney, Edward Pluss, said to his client loud enough for the courtroom to hear, “Your other right.”
Initially, Romero pleaded not guilty in the dragging death of Buddy, a German-shepherd mix whose bleeding carcass was found with a rope around its neck in the early morning hours of Dec. 30.
“In order to kill the dog, the defendant tied a rope to the dog’s neck and dragged the dog behind the truck until the dog was dead,” his plea agreement reads. “By doing so, the defendant needlessly mutilated, tortured and killed the dog.”
The dog had been stolen from a Delta couple, Joe and Sacha Leber, who were present in the U.S. District Court where Romero changed his plea.
The couple, who brought their three young children to the courtroom to view the proceeding, said they were pleased with the outcome, but not the maximum punishment Romero could receive.
“He’s going to get what’s coming to him eventually when he meets his maker,” Joe Leber said. “Buddy had a cruel life before we got him. He didn’t deserve a death like that. Nobody does.”
Four other supporters unrelated to the Lebers also attended. All wore orange ribbons with “Buddy” written on them.
Romero’s sister, Melissa Marie Lockhart, 32, of Fruita, is facing felony charges for her alleged involvement in the death. A Facebook page in honor of the dog now lists more than 263,891 friends.
Prosecutors allege Lockhart stole Buddy and another dog owned by the Lebers, but she later asked her brother to get rid of Buddy after he attacked a family cat.
Lockhart faces a felony theft charge. If convicted, she could receive as many as three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Her trial is set for June 1.