Grand Junction: Federal grand jury indicts dog-dragging suspect
Vail, CO, Colorado
A federal grand jury indicted two Fruita residents in connection with the December dog dragging death of “Buddy” at the Colorado National Monument, authorities said Tuesday.
Melissa Marie Lockhart, 32, stands accused of misprision of felony, or failing to report knowledge of a felony.
She faces up to three years in federal prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted as charged. An arrest warrant was also issued for Lockhart.
The indictment alleges Lockhart concealed an “aggravated animal cruelty committed by Steven Clay Romero,” her brother, “by making false statements to law enforcement, and did not a soon as possible” make the crime known to authorities. The indictment was handed down late Monday.
Romero, 37, of Fruita, was also indicted in connection with the alleged incident. He stands accused of aggravated animal cruelty. Romero faces up to three years in federal prison and a fine of $100,000 if convicted of the allegation.
The indictment formalizes the aggravated animal cruelty charge, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Heldmyer. She is prosecuting the case.
Romero is set to be arraigned at 4 p.m. Wednesday in federal court at the Wayne N. Aspinall Building in Grand Junction. Romero is being held without bond at Mesa County jail.
The indictment alleges that Romero “did knowingly torture, needlessly mutilate, and needlessly kill an animal, that is, ‘Buddy’ the dog, by dragging the dog behind a vehicle with a rope tied to the dog’s neck until the dog was dead.”
The allegations stem from an incident that occurred in late December. Buddy was a German shepherd mix.
At a hearing in Grand Junction earlier this month, U.S. Park Ranger Clint Forte testified he received a telephone call from his supervisor early in the morning of Dec. 30. The call was regarding a report of dog discovered on a road that runs through the monument.
Forte said when he got to the location he found a dog, whom he later identified as Buddy, with a “rope tied around its neck that was designed to tighten” as it pulled.
He said a vehicle, later identified as a red pickup truck, had dragged the dog, which was dead when he arrived at the scene. A subsequent investigation in the incident pinpointed, Romero as the driver of the truck.
He said the pickup truck, which belongs to a girlfriend of Romero, was located outside the Fruita residence of Lockhart when a witness said he saw Romero drive off with the dog in the back of the “red truck.”
That occurred about 2 a.m. Dec. 30. A maintenance worker found the dog about 4:30 a.m. near the first tunnel on the west side of the monument.
Forte said the witness also said he saw Romero return in the truck without the dog. The witness was apparently awakened by loud music coming from the truck.
Forte also said that surveillance tape showed Buddy was in the back of the truck, when the vehicle entered the monument about 2:18 a.m. Forte said he was able to identify the dog by a “white patch” on his chest.
He said as authorities continued to look into the matter they determined that Buddy was one of two dogs, which had been stolen prior to the incident at the monument. The other dog, which also belongs to a Delta resident, was returned to authorities.
The case has draw widespread attention. Most recently, a Colorado Springs man said he would attend the hearing Wednesday in which he plans to deliver before the event more than 100,000 petitions to prosecutors.
The petitions, which have reportedly been signed by people across the United States and upward of 100 other countries, call for a severe penalty in the case.
Reach Wyatt Haupt Jr. at firstname.lastname@example.org
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