Willie Bee Turner drenched his puppy with bleach. He then tossed it off of a balcony railing, but it survived.
The next night, he locked the puppy in a portable pet kennel, carried it from the apartment building where he stayed with friends across the street and set the animal and cart ablaze on the sidewalk, burning the weeks-old Chihuahua alive.
For this, Turner, 21, of Oakland, was sentenced Friday in Sacramento Superior Court to three years and eight months in state prison for animal cruelty causing death, animal cruelty and arson for setting the caramel-colored pup he named Angel Star alight in January 2015. Superior Court Judge Lawrence Brown called the crime “an unspeakable affront to societal norms.”
“There is a darkness in the defendant,” Brown said from the bench as an impassive Turner looked on. Brown said he thought about the case again earlier that morning as he walked his own dog before work.
A Sacramento County jury convicted Turner in March of abusing and killing the 8-week-old Chihuahua mix. The dog’s charred remains were found outside a Masonic Lodge on Becerra Way near Marconi Avenue early Jan. 22, 2015. Turner was arrested that February.
Prosecutors said Angel Star defecated on the floor of the Marconi Avenue apartment where Turner stayed Jan. 20, 2015, and received a soaking of bleach as punishment. Witnesses saw the dog limping and smelling of bleach and alcohol the following day, prosecutors sad. The cruelty escalated from there, prosecutors said, culminating in the grisly fire outside the Masonic Lodge in the minutes after midnight Jan. 22, 2015.
A passing motorist saw the blaze and called 911.
Firefighters, then a community, were shocked by what was found. Tips from the public led to Turner’s arrest.
Turner cannot own a pet for 10 years. He will be registered as a lifetime arson offender and will no longer be allowed to own or possess a firearm.
But the term – Turner has already served more than a year in Sacramento County custody – frustrated animal advocates and Deputy District Attorney Hilary Bagley, who chafed at the limits of present sentencing guidelines. Numerous others wrote letters to the court expressing outrage. Brown acknowledged the correspondence from the bench.
“This is a piddly sentence for such a heinous crime,” Bagley told the judge, saying she was disappointed in Turner’s statement to county probation officials that he “takes responsibility for the things he did not do.”
“Significant introspection for this type of crime is needed,” Bagley said. “Clearly, that hasn’t happened.”
“The results of this grotesque case of cruelty – the outcome of three years, eight months for the tossing off a balcony, dousing with bleach and the setting of this monster’s puppy on fire hardly does justice to this little life,” said Placerville-area animal advocate Jennifer Canady, a regular presence at Turner’s trial, after Friday’s sentencing hearing.
Lawmakers, too, have pushed for changes to the cruelty statutes, but the effort remains an uphill battle.
State Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, who represents Riverside County, recently lost a bid to double the sentences for animal cruelty crimes. The legislation, Senate Bill 1395, proposed by a high school student in his district, failed to move out of the Senate’s Public Safety Committee.
“There’s no consequence for treating an animal in this way,” Stone said Friday. “We shouldn’t have to have a horrific event like this for something to happen.”