Crime - Sacto 911

Jury convicts Sacramento man of felony animal cruelty for torturing and killing dogs

A Sacramento man accused of beating, choking and hanging his pet dogs is facing up to 16 years in state prison after a jury convicted him Thursday of felony animal cruelty and assaulting and threatening a neighbor.

Authorities last year seized Robert Lee Brian’s pit bull terrier, Bubba, from his home after discovering the animal with a fractured skull and snout, a severely damaged right eye and possible chemical burns on his face. They later found the remains of three dogs in the backyard of Brian’s home on Howe Avenue.

During a weeklong jury trial, neighbors testified that Brian, 47, repeatedly abused Bubba, punching, kicking and choking the dog and withholding food and water from him, said Sacramento County deputy district attorney Hilary Bagley-Franzoia. One witness said he saw Brian hang the dog from a “choke chain” using the upper frame of a porch swing. Others said Brian “smashed” his pets around his house, and reported hearing dogs crying out in apparent pain.

After a neighbor phoned authorities about suspected abuse, county animal control officers seized Bubba in October and Brian was arrested. Later, animal control officer Jessica Vigel discovered the three dogs’s remains.

Bubba survived his injuries but lost vision in his right eye, said Bagley-Franzoia. The dog, which the attorney described as “a sweet, big, goofy” gray and white pit bull, is living at the county shelter and may soon be available for adoption, she said.

Bagley-Franzoia, who works in the county attorney’s homicide unit, said she is committed to prosecuting animal cruelty cases, which are particularly difficult in part because “the victims can’t speak for themselves” and witnesses are reluctant to testify against their neighbors or family members. She has prosecuted dozens of such cases in recent years.

“I’m not the lone ranger anymore,” she said. “More and more attorneys are very interested in cruelty cases, because the public is enraged by it and they want us to do something about it. People need to do the right thing if they suspect abuse, and we need agencies to respond.”

The Brian case was particularly disturbing, she said, because the defendant displayed a consistent pattern of abuse.

“What this guy did to this dog was absolutely horrendous,” she said. “This, to me, was torture. It was continuous abuse.”

A jury convicted Brian, who has a lengthy criminal history, of three counts of felony animal cruelty and one count each of assault and criminal threats. The latter convictions pertained to an altercation with a female neighbor who subsequently reported him to police and animal control.

Sentencing is set for May 2 at 2 p.m. in Department 21 before Judge Steve White.