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Lawyer in animal cruelty case requests competency hearing

Posted on Nov 27, 2007 - 12:20 PM
Rutland Herald

Article published Nov 26, 2007

Lawyer in animal cruelty case requests competency hearing

By PATRICK McARDLE Herald Staff

BENNINGTON The state's efforts to seize the pets belonging to a local man who is facing 10 counts of animal cruelty is on hold after his attorney requested he undergo a competency hearing.

Police said Michael Rinaldo, 52, of Bennington, was found to be living with almost a dozen animals in a trailer with no electricity, heat or water. Rinaldo pleaded not guilty to the charges during his arraignment on Aug. 27. The criminal case is not yet on the court's trial calendar.

But under Vermont law, the state can proceed with a forfeiture hearing while the criminal charges are pending so the animals can be placed with new owners if the forfeiture request is granted.

Bennington County Public Defender Frederick Bragdon, who is representing Rinaldo, said he made the request for a competency hearing after speaking with his client during the second day of testimony of the forfeiture hearing on Nov. 19.

The competency hearing in this proceeding is a little different than it's been on past cases, Bragdon said.

If a defendant is found incompetent during a criminal trial, the case against the defendant stops and the court attempts to determine the best method of treatment.

In this case, however, the forfeiture hearing is expected to go forward no matter what the competency screener finds, Bragdon said. A guardian will be appointed to look out for Rinaldo's interests if Rinaldo is found incompetent.

Bennington Police Officer Anthony Silvestro wrote in an affidavit that he had gone to Rinaldo's trailer on June 29 after Rinaldo said he had a problem with his landlord.

Silvestro wrote that he found there were a number of animals in the home which he described as having a strong smell of urine and feces.

Rinaldo said there was no running water or electricity in the trailer, according to Silvestro.

Kevin Goodhue, a building inspector for the town of Bennington, said Rinaldo's trailer had already been condemned by the town. Goodhue said the town planned to take Rinaldo to court to force him out.

Silvestro spoke to an investigator from the Humane Society on July 12 who told him that one of Rinaldo's dogs had been electrocuted. The investigator said she believed the death was caused by the dog biting an electrical wire that had been exposed after being chewed through by rats.

On July 30, Silvestro, Bennington Animal Control Officer Christine Crawford and two representatives of the Humane Society returned to Rinaldo's trailer to seize the animals.

Two dogs, one with what was described as a pendulous a softball-sized tumor hanging from its stomach seven cats and one dead cat found in a cardboard box wrapped in a black garbage bag were removed.

During the first day of the forfeiture hearing on Nov. 16, Crawford said she was "appalled" by the conditions in Rinaldo's home.

Crawford said the animals didn't appear to be underweight but the trailer was hot, unventilated and infested with insects.

"I couldn't breathe. I had to keep going outside. I don't know how they stayed in there," she said.

Crawford testified that she had little involvement with the cats but said the dogs were infested with fleas and one had a "large area, naked and bloody," where it had been chewing at the fleas.

Humane Society Investigator Michelle Alexander said the cats seemed to be unsocialized and "almost feral."

Alexander said the interior of the trailer was extremely moldy. In his affidavit, Silvestro said Rinaldo told him the trailer had been flooded.

Bragdon said on Nov. 20 that his client was not abusing his pets but taking care of them as well as he could.

Rinaldo himself was living in the same condition as his pets, Bragdon pointed out.

According to Bragdon, Rinaldo doesn't seem to be an animal "hoarder" because he owned only a few dogs and most of the cats came to Rinaldo rather than him seeking them out.

A competency hearing is usually completed within about three weeks, according to Bragdon, but the holiday break may cause Rinaldo's hearing to take a little longer.

Contact Patrick McArdle at patrick.mcardle@rutlandherald.com.


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