Eagle resident on trial for cruelty to animals | VailDaily.com

Eagle resident on trial for cruelty to animals

Ryan Slater

EAGLE — A local man says a dog that he and his girlfriend owned suffocated when its muzzle became stuck in a snack bag.

However, prosecutors say Ryan Slater beat the dog to death and are charging him with aggravated cruelty to animals and domestic violence, both felonies.

Slater's four-day trial started Tuesday morning.

Sweet and sour

Slater and his girlfriend, Alicia Baldwin, lived together in Gypsum. He bought her a pit bull puppy, and they named it Journey. After about a year and a half, their relationship began to sour.

On Aug. 5, 2014, an argument erupted when Slater found another man's contact information in her cell phone and he accused her of cheating — a charge Baldwin denied.

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Baldwin went to a local liquor store and bought a "big" bottle of Jagermeister, drank most of it and started throwing her pills at him, she said.

Slater told her to take her medication and leave.

She downed an entire bottle of her antidepressants, about 30 pills, she said. Slater called 911, and Baldwin was taken to Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs. I few days later she was transferred to a Front Range facility.

Slater says he was at work on Aug. 10, 2014, and that he must have failed to latch Journey's crate properly.

He returned home and found Journey dead on the hallway floor, a Cheetos bag over its muzzle, said Dorothea Reiff, Slater's defense attorney.

Slater called Baldwin in the hospital to tell her that Journey was dead, Reiff said.

He wrapped the dog in a green blanket and buried her in the backyard near a lilac bush.

Dog's AUTOPSY

Prosecutors say Slater beat the dog to death and say the evidence will confirm that.

Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan said Baldwin's mother called the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, and investigators went to the site and dug up the dog's body.

An autopsy indicates the dog was killed by blunt force trauma, Kirwan said in his opening statements.

"There was bleeding on the brain. This dog did not die of eating Cheetos. This dog was beaten to death," Kirwan said.

Dr. Eugene Ehrhart is a diagnostic pathologist at the state lab at Colorado State University. He examined the dog's body. He said Journey died of brain trauma severe enough to cause hemorrhaging in its head.

The rest of the body was largely uninjured, Ehrhart said. The dog showed no signs of suffocation, Ehrhart said.

"The dog did not die of suffocation. The dog died of brain hemorrhaging," he said.

SLATER'S LOVE FOR THE DOG

Reiff said the blunt force trauma is concentrated around the dog's muzzle, around where the Cheetos bag was stuck. She said that if the bag had been all the way over the dog's head, a pit bull's ears would have created air passages and Journey would have been able to get some oxygen.

"Mr. Slater loved that dog as much as Ms. Baldwin did," Reiff said. "This is not a case of domestic violence. It's not a case of animal cruelty."

Neighbors say Slater was upset when the dog died, Reiff said.

When deputies came to the house to investigate, Slater told them where to find the dog's body and pulled the eight-ounce Cheetos bag from the trash and handed it over. He spoke freely with deputies, said Mike McWilliam, Eagle County undersheriff.

"These are not the reactions of a man who beat his own dog to death," Reiff said.

Reiff said there is no physical evidence tying her client to the dog's death. There's no blood trace on any of his clothes or shoes.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.