Petition decries man’s plea deal in dog torture
A group of animal rights activists claim nearly 3,000 signatures in an online petition asking a Mesa County judge to reject probation for a man who tortured and killed a dog.
“Hand 4Paws,” which bills itself as a collection of activists who use social media to push various causes, writes in a letter to be sent to Mesa County District Judge Richard Gurley that he should reject a plea agreement in the case of 18-year-old Joseph Nelson and impose the maximum penalty for aggravated cruelty to animals.
“We also request that (Nelson) not be allowed around companion animals for a minimum of five years and that he has successfully completed anger management counseling,” the petition concludes.
The petition, circulating at Change.org, claimed 2,826 signatures as of Friday, with supporters highly critical of the proposed plea agreement in Nelson’s case.
Gurley is scheduled to sentence Nelson on June 22. Nelson pleaded guilty April 19 to aggravated cruelty to animals, in exchange for a deal calling for a probation sentence.
The terms and length of probation will be left up to Gurley, but the judge also has yet to formally accept the plea agreement.
Nelson was arrested last November, seven days after his 18th birthday and three months after his mother’s 20-pound mixed-breed dog was found by a passer-by hanging by its leash from the Orchard Mesa pedestrian bridge over the Colorado River.
The dog’s internal organs were cut out and an eyeball was missing, according to an arrest affidavit.
A friend of Nelson’s told police Nelson became enraged after being contacted by police on Aug. 14, 2011, for an unrelated incident, the affidavit said. Nelson was observed swinging the dog by its leash, slamming it into a backyard shed 10 to 12 times, before he kicked it and threw a bicycle on top of it, the affidavit said.
Nelson’s mother told police her son had been heavily involved in methamphetamine use.
District Attorney Pete Hautzinger in January moved to direct file adult charges against Nelson.
Hautzinger declined to comment on criticism of the plea agreement in Nelson’s case, saying they’ll explain their position at sentencing.
“I can say that the pendency of legislation which would remove cases like Nelson’s from even being eligible for direct filing played a major role in our decisions on how best to handle Nelson’s case,” Hautzinger said.
The DA continued, “I have been far more concerned about trying to make sure he comes out of this with an adult felony conviction that stays with him for life than I have been about how many days in jail he winds up doing.”
Under House Bill 1271, which was signed into law in April by Gov. John Hickenlooper, aggravated animal cruelty cases such as Nelson’s cannot be direct filed.
The new law, among other features, restricts prosecutors’ authority to direct file adult charges to only the most serious crimes, Class 1 or 2 felonies such as murder and violent sexual assault.