Angel Star was Willie Bee Turner’s baby, he told his friends on Facebook, his words written above a photo of his sleeping caramel-colored puppy. That was until she betrayed him by contracting worms and soiling the floor of his friends’ apartment, a prosecutor said.
Turner was then humiliated and Angel Star became expendable.
A Sacramento County jury on Thursday convicted Turner, 21, of Oakland, of malicious killing of an animal, animal abuse and arson for burning the 8-week-old Chihuahua mix alive last January, her charred remains found among what was left of its portable plastic kennel outside an Arden Arcade area Masonic Lodge.
“Tell him what he did was wrong. Period,” prosecuting Sacramento County Deputy District Attorney Hilary Bagley told jurors, pointing at Turner at the end of her closing argument Wednesday.
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By Thursday morning, they had. Sentencing is scheduled April 15 before Sacramento Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown. Turner faces a maximum sentence of four years, four months in state prison for his crimes.
For many, the case began just after midnight Jan. 22, 2015, with a call of a debris fire to Sacramento Metropolitan Fire crews. What the firefighters found in front of the George A. Primrose Masonic Temple on Becerra Way near Marconi Avenue horrified them and later a community. Medical examiners who performed a necropsy on the mixed-breed pup’s remains determined Angel Star was alive when she was set alight.
Sacramento County prosecutors say Turner of Oakland and his pet were staying at a friend’s Marconi Avenue apartment Jan. 20 when the dog angered him by defecating on the apartment’s floor.
The cruelty that followed sparked outrage, tips poured in and Sacramento County sheriff’s and Metro Fire authorities marshaled a task force to find out who committed the atrocity.
Turner was arrested in February 2015 in what Bagley in her closing argument called a “very dark and unusual case.”
Burning his puppy alive in the middle of the night was the final act, but Bagley told jurors that violence preceded it. Bagley blasted Turner’s claim that he tried to clean the animal with bleach after it defecated, saying instead that he poured bleach over the pup as punishment and said she was “severely injured and could barely walk.”
She spoke grimly of witnesses who saw a limping dog that smelled of bleach and alcohol on Jan. 21 and of the “hour of escalating cruelty that led to egregious abuse and its death” just after midnight Jan. 22.
The others in the apartment had placed the puppy in a pet carrier with plans to take it to a veterinarian the next day. They never got the chance.
Little more than 10 minutes after midnight Jan. 22, according to Bagley’s timeline, a motorist spotted a burning object on a nearby sidewalk and called 911 upon returning home. By 12:30 a.m., Metro Fire crews had arrived at the scene.
Prosecutors said Turner had picked up the carrier, walked across the street to Becerra Way and set the carrier and puppy ablaze.
Turner’s counsel, Christopher Ryan, called the dog’s death “a horrific act” in his closing argument, but said prosecutors failed to prove that Turner killed the dog and argued that a pair of unidentified men briefly seen in the area of the dog’s crate may have committed the act.
“Something horrific happened to that dog, but they haven’t established what happened to that dog, Ryan said. “No one saw him burn that dog.”
Turner also tried to convince the others at the apartment that he took the puppy to a neighbor’s to watch when he left the apartment about midnight on Jan. 22, and denied knowing what happened to the pup when questioned by detectives, Bagley said.
“He knew it was in that crate. It’s not with a neighbor or a dog-watching friend or a stranger who was a sadist. This was seen by him and experienced by him,” Bagley said.
A small contingent of animal advocates from across the region who observed the trial expressed relief after the verdict.
“We’re elated. For so long, animal abuse has been swept under the rug. This is the very definition of egregious,” said Linda Wolfe of Fair Oaks, a local animal activist who has followed the case from its outset, outside Brown’s courtroom on Thursday. “These are victims who have no voices.”