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Jury Acquits Essex Cop of Animal Cruelty Charges

Posted on Nov 23, 2009 - 10:46 AM
Jury Acquits Essex Cop of Animal Cruelty Charges
November 17, 2009

After a two-day trial, Essex police officer Michael Wootton stood next to his lawyer to learn the jury's verdict on the charge of animal cruelty: not guilty.

It took jurors six hours to decide, but they unanimously agreed that Wootton was forced to shoot his neighbor's dog. Wootton contended that the 80-pound pit bull, named Hooch, was viciously attacking Wootton's 15-pound family dog.

Wootton was the final witness in his own defense at the trial.

"I felt I was watching the death of my dog," he said.

The 35-year-old cop fought back tears as he told the jury he was off-duty last April when he spotted his small dog, Yoda, in a neighbor's yard being viciously attacked by the much larger Hooch.

"I've been around dog fights before and this wasn't it. My dog was pinned to the ground. It would be lifted up, shaken by its neck. The noise that my dog made will forever stay in my mind. It was a horrific sound of a dog being killed. And I will never forget it. The sight of my dog being shaken by its neck-- this is a 15-pound dog and an 80-pound dog attacking it. It had no chance and it wasn't, didn't have the ability to fight back," Wootton said.

Wootton said he had no chance to get Hooch off his dog, so he ran back to his home, got a handgun, ran back, and when he still could not safely stop the attack, he shot Hooch once in the stomach to save his dog's life.

Five other neighbors testified that over the past four years Hooch had a history of jumping his fence and terrifying them, their children and their pets.

But the state claimed Wootton was guilty of animal cruelty because he passed up chances to break up the fight and chose to shoot Hooch with lethal .45 ammo when he could have wounded the dog with bird shot.

Conviction could have cost Wootton his police career. His family and fellow police officers were in the courtroom when the not guilty verdict was read.

"(He) feels vindicated," said defense lawyer Frank Twarog. "He feels as though, putting this in the hand of his peers and leaving a jury to decide the outcome, demonstrates all along what he has felt, that no crime was committed."

"This is the type of a case that really pushes a lot of buttons and can split a community," said Prosecutor Joel Page. "So I am glad we were able to bring some closure to this."

"Justice wasn't done," said Rose Rogers, Hooch's owner. "We feel that as a family."

"I just, I had a lot of faith and I didn't see it coming. I really didn't," said Mindy Maskell, a witness for the prosecution. "I guess justice takes its own course. At a time like this, it just makes you wonder.

Wootton has been on paid administrative duty since first being charged with animal cruelty in May. He is now expected to return to regular duty.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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