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California court rejects appeal by dog killer

Andrew Burnett was sentenced to three years, the maximum sentence allowed.
Andrew Burnett was sentenced to three years, the maximum sentence allowed.

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• Opinion: People v. Burnett external link

SAN FRANCISCO, California (Reuters) -- A California appeals court Tuesday declined to reverse the conviction of a man serving three years in prison for killing a lap dog named Leo in a road rage case that outraged animal lovers.

Andrew Burnett was convicted in 2001 for tossing a 19-pound Bichon Frise out of a woman's car and into oncoming traffic during a dispute over a minor accident on a stormy winter night in San Jose, California.

Burnett appealed the conviction on a number points, ranging from insufficient evidence to improper procedure by the trial court.

The court rejected all Burnett's claims, and in an opinion issued Tuesday, said his contention that Leo was actually killed when he darted back into traffic from the other side of the road was "absurd."

Even though Leo was killed by a minivan when he tried to run across the busy street back to his owner, that did not mitigate the fact that Burnett had caused Leo to be placed on a dangerous road in the first place, the appeals court said.

"Leo was stunned, terrified, and confused by being thrown to the ground," the court wrote. "He reacted to fright by running."

The appeals court also found that the lower court had not diminished Burnett's credibility by by admitting evidence that he had beaten a stray dog to death in 1995 while serving in the Navy in Puerto Rico.

Leo was killed in a February 2000 road rage incident.
Leo was killed in a February 2000 road rage incident.

Leo was the cherished pet of Sara McBurnett, who angered Burnett when she accidentally rear-ended his SUV while sitting in traffic on the way to pick up her husband from the airport in February 2000.

Burnett got out of his car to confront McBurnett and, as the argument became more heated, reached into her car window and grabbed the dog who later died on the way to the veterinarian to seek treatment.

Burnett initially eluded arrest, but after the story was publicized on national television, some $120,000 in reward money was raised.

Despite Burnett's efforts to change his appearance, residents near his San Jose home eventually recognized his black SUV and turned him in to police.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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