Jury acquits man of animal cruelty charges
July 15, 2015
EAGLE — A jury acquitted a Gypsum man of the death of his girlfriend's dog.
Ryan Slater was charged with aggravated animal abuse, a felony, in the death of Journey, a 4-month old pit bull.
At the end of the three-day trial, a 12-person jury — seven women and five men — said he didn't do it.
Slater was motionless as the verdict was read, but members of his family pumped their fists in the air when Judge Paul Dunkelman read the jury's decision.
Deputy District Attorney Joe Kirwan argued that Slater beat Journey until brain hemorrhaging killed the dog.
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Slater had said the dog suffocated when its face became stuck in a Cheetos bag. Defense attorney Dorothea Reiff from the public defenders office countered that bruising was found only on the dog's muzzle, where the bag had gotten stuck, and for Slater to be that accurate means he has "the precision of a ninja."
Slater had given the dog to Alicia Baldwin, his live-in girlfriend at the time. Their relationship was deteriorating, and during an argument Baldwin overdosed on alcohol and prescription pills. Slater called 911, and Baldwin was in the hospital when Journey died.
Slater was at work a couple days later, leaving the dog in a crate. When he came home, he found Journey dead, the defense said. He assumed what anyone would assume, Reiff said.
"To try to turn it into an abject lie defies logic and common sense," Reiff said.
Slater cooperated with police and investigators, Reiff said.
Michelle Luchycky, Slater's next door neighbor, testified that Slater was crying when he came to her house to tell her that Journey was dead.
"Either he is the best actor in the world, or he is sincere," Reiff said.
Prosecutors accused him of planting and manipulating evidence, Reiff said.
"If he were that diabolical," he would have done it better, Reiff said.
Jury believed him
In closing statements, Kirwan reiterated his assertions that Slater was not to be believed, that he beat Journey until the dog died.
"The only evidence you have heard is that the dog did not suffocate. It did not die from eating Cheetos. It died from blunt force trauma," Kirwan. "That dog was beaten to death."
Baldwin's mother notified the Eagle County Sheriff's Office, saying she was suspicious about the dog's death. Deputies went to Slater's home, where the dog was buried in the backyard, and brought along Char Gonsenica, executive director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society. Gonsenica shipped the dog's body to Colorado State University, where animal pathologist Dr. Eugene Ehrhart found brain hemorrhaging that he said indicated that the dog was beaten.
Reiff argued that Slater had no motive to kill the dog.
"He loved Journey just as much as Ms. Baldwin," Reiff said. "There was no motive. … There's no evidence, and what's required in a court of law."
Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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