Willie Gardner was released from jail in late morning today, a few hours after a sentencing hearing before Circuit Judge Terence Perkins, who withheld a further jail sentence after all on animal abuse charges Gardner faced. Gardner had served 30 days since his arrest on a probation violation. Perkins earlier this month had wanted 90 days. (See: “In Rare Rebuke, Judge Rejects Plea Agreement and Asks for Jail Time in Dog Abuse Case.”)
Gardner, 30, had originally been charged with four felony counts of animal cruelty in a case involving four dogs that appeared to have been neglected. In fact, his attorney, Assistant Public Defender Bill Bookhammer said, the dogs were judged by a veterinarian to be in relatively good condition and well cared for.
Gardner was ready to plead and be sentenced on Nov. 17 to charges reduced to misdemeanor. The plea agreement, negotiated with the prosecution, would have had him serve four years on probation. But Perkins, who had not read the veterinarian’s deposition and was going on the information in the arrest report, told Gardner and Bookhammer he wanted a three-month jail sentence. Still, he agreed to delay the sentencing until the two sides could produce the deposition.
There was no mention of any of that today when Gardner again appeared before the judge, along with Bookhammer and Assistant State Attorney Tara Libby. Gardner merely pleaded to the lesser charges and the 30-day jail sentence.
But the case was an example of a veteran public defender standing his ground in the face of what could have been an undue punishment, and finally carrying the day, albeit at the cost of almost two more weeks in jail for his client than either wanted: Gardner had been employed at a steady job with benefits, and was in jeopardy of losing that job the longer he stayed in jail. Bookhammer–who can be forceful while still being understated–had made the point to the court earlier this month.
Gardner is no longer allowed to own or care for any kind of animal–not just dogs–on any property. He is not allowed to live in a residence where anyone else– including family members or roommates–has pets or animals. He also may not transport or foster animals. He will be placed on the animal abuse registry, a statewide database. Probationers usually get the chance to end their probation at the halfway point, assuming they have fulfilled all the terms of probation until then. Gardner will not be allowed to end probation early.
He will still be responsible for paying both court costs and fees, and nearly a $4,000 bill to the Humane Society covering the cost of care for his dogs there. But he will have four years to do that.
he happens to have two horses on his property at the moment. The judge has given him 30 days to have them removed, or else he will be in violation of his probation. A violation could land him either in jail or in prison.