Court upholds use of dog as evidence

Roger Pitcher

A Mesa County jury’s in-person viewing of a dog, Shila the Chihuahua, was proper during a 2010 criminal trial, the Colorado Court of Appeals said in a decision last week.

Roger Pitcher, 47, formerly of Grand Junction, had argued through appellate attorneys the physical appearance in court by Shila — a 5-pound, 6-inch-high dog who witnesses said was abused by Pitcher during an incident in February 2010 — unfairly prejudiced the jury during his trial before District Judge Brian Flynn. Pitcher, a parolee at the time of his arrest, was convicted by the jury of felony menacing and cruelty to animals, and was sentenced by Flynn to serve 12 years in the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Pitcher’s attorneys argued on appeal the dog’s physical size could have been demonstrated by Mesa County prosecutors through other means, claiming the animal’s brief appearance at the Mesa County Justice Center “served no purpose other than to arouse the emotions of the jurors.”

The Court of Appeals disagreed, affirming Pitcher’s convictions and sentence.

“We note that assault victims often are physically present in the courtroom during trial, and had Shila been human, she most likely would have testified,” Court of Appeal Judge Alan Loeb wrote on behalf of a three-judge panel.

The Court of Appeals also agreed with a ruling by Flynn who allowed jurors to hear a voicemail message left by Pitcher on the cellphone of a Grand Junction police officer who investigated the case.

The message consisted of a single question, “Is this Officer ****weed?” Pitcher argued unsuccessfully the voicemail was irrelevant and misleading.

Pitcher was arrested Feb. 28, 2010, after multiple witnesses said they watched him kick a small dog outside a home in the 1800 block of Bunting Avenue.

Pitcher grabbed the dog by the tether connected to its collar, swung the dog and slammed it into the ground twice from above his head, according to the Court of Appeals.

Pitcher eventually claimed he “threw” the dog to defend himself after he was bitten, although officers observed no bite marks.

He’s eligible for parole in November 2015.


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