Sacramento judge sends man to prison for abusing dog; orders him to register as sex offender

12/24/2011 12:00 AM

12/25/2011 12:46 PM

A Sacramento judge on Friday sentenced a man convicted of animal abuse to 10 years in state prison and ordered him to register as a sex offender over strong objections from his defense lawyer.

It may represent the first time that Jessica's Law has been applied in a case involving sexual abuse of an animal, a county prosecutor said. The man's defense lawyer indicated she will appeal.

A Superior Court jury convicted Robert DeShields, a 55-year-old parolee and chronic methamphetamine user, of felony animal cruelty in the sexual abuse of a Chihuahua mix named Shadow. The dog suffered severe injuries that required surgery and now lives in a foster home.

Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Hilary Bagley Franzoia argued in court Friday that DeShields be treated as a sexual offender for the rest of his life because he is a danger to society. "The public needs to be on alert," she said.

DeShields, who suffers from a nerve disorder that limits his mobility, sat in a wheelchair during the sentencing hearing wearing a jail-issued orange jumpsuit. A dozen animal advocates attended the proceedings.

A jury convicted DeShields after a trial that included graphic testimony about his abuse of the animal, which included strangulation and penetration with a foreign object.

County animal control investigators brought the case to the District Attorney's Office based on a report from the dog's owner, who had given DeShields a temporary place to live. Sacramento County sheriff's deputies made the arrest.

Shadow now lives with a county shelter employee, Laura Badeker, who spoke at Friday's hearing.

"Shadow is a victim in every sense of the word," she told the judge. The dog is extraordinarily fearful of men, "like many victims of sexual assault," she said, and may never fully recover from its physical wounds.

The defendant's attorney, Jennifer Stoneburner, argued that her client was convicted of animal abuse, not a sex crime, and should not have to register as a sexual offender. A probation report concluded that DeShields engaged in "aberrant behavior" but is not a child molester or rapist, she argued.

"There is no indication that this law should apply" in animal abuse cases, she said.

But Judge Thadd Blizzard declared that the crime DeShields committed was "inherently sexual in nature" and ordered him to register as a sex offender.

As such, DeShields will be prohibited from living near schools and places where children gather and must wear a tracking device on his ankle for the rest of his life.

Blizzard also imposed the maximum sentence of 10 years, saying that the defendant's conduct represents "a serious threat to society."

"The dog Shadow could do nothing to prevent these brutal injuries," he said. "It's difficult to even think about these acts."

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