Capper defends Skinner’s sentence

Published 6:28 pm Friday, September 5, 2008

CHESAPEAKE — The court-ordered punishment for the man at the center of a high-profile animal abuse case followed the sentencing guidelines set out by the Ohio Revised Code, says the presiding judge in the case.

David Bruce Skinner of Proctorville pleaded no contest Aug. 1 to allowing a chain to grow into the neck of a Golden Retriever he owned and cared for. The dog was rescued on July 25 by concerned neighbors and a county sheriff’s deputy.

The chain had to be surgically removed and the veterinarian who handled the case said he had never seen a dog in that type of medical condition.

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Lawrence County Municipal Court Donald R. Capper sentenced Skinner on Aug. 28 to pay restitution of $2,198.05 to the vet, Dr. Steven Mahnken, a fine of $400 and court costs of $90. Because of a misreading of a computer docket entry, The Ironton Tribune incorrectly reported that the fine and court costs had been suspended.

Capper also sentenced the dog owner to 20 days in jail, which was suspended contingent to his completing 60 hours of community service.

In both a five-page judgment entry filed with the court and in an interview with The Ironton Tribune Capper defended his decision, noting he was well-aware of the public interest in the case following several newspaper stories and segments on a local television station.

The judge reiterated that his decision came clearly within the sentencing guidelines.

“The public can be out there with pitch forks and torches,” he said. “That is not what judges are supposed to consider. I considered the law.”

Capper said on a weekly basis he presides over cases of deliberate abuse against women and children.

“There is nobody there on those cases, no TV, no newspapers,” he said. “They don’t get any coverage. Those are usually blatant intentional harm inflicted. We have cases all the time with child abuse, women being abused. It doesn’t get this kind of media.”

Suspending the jail sentence was based on several factors, Capper wrote in his decision.

“The defendant does not have a history of persistent criminal activity. … The court therefore finds that there is not a substantial risk that the offender will commit another offense like the one charged here or any other offense,” the entry stated. “The court further finds that the offender is not a substantial risk or danger to others. The court further finds that the defendant is employed full-time.”

Another factor was that he did not believe the abuse was intentional on the part of Skinner, Capper said.

“When we talk about animal abuse, you tend to think someone is purposely harming the animal,” Capper said. “I don’t know what is in this man’s mind. The state didn’t produce any evidence he was intentionally harming (the dog).”

In his ruling, Capper wrote that the wound was not visible in a photograph submitted to the court that showed the dog and that the animal’s fur had to be brushed apart to show the injury.

“He didn’t do what he should have done, not what a prudent person should have done for this animal,” the judge said. “He didn’t have the evil intent. He had a negligent intent. That was what I was looking for. The taxpayers would have had to pay to keep him in jail. He would probably lose his job.”

In recent years cases of animal abuse have drawn national attention. One of the most extreme concerned the dog-fighting ring conducted by one-time NFL football player Michael Vick. Some psychologists have stated acts of abuse to animals can lead to violent behavior toward other individuals.

Capper said such a premise had no bearing in this case.

“This is a nice theoretical discussion. There is no evidence in this,” he said. “He has no prior record of domestic violence. We have people in our court with multiple, multiple violent convictions. We don’t have anyone get up in arms about putting them in jail.”

Capper was also asked if he thought the public’s intense concern about this case and other animal abuse cases was misplaced.

“I don’t know if it is misplaced,” he said. “It is what it is. For some reason people are interested in dog cases, not as interested in human abuse as much.”