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The Dallas Morning News

Man convicted of setting dog on fire: Faces up to 10 years for stabbing pit bull, setting her on fire

September 28, 2007

A Dallas County jury deliberated less than an hour Thursday before finding a man guilty of animal cruelty for torturing his dog by setting her on fire. Deshawn Brown, 22, faces up to 10 years in prison. Jurors will begin hearing evidence in the punishment phase of the trial today. The dog, named Mercy by caregivers, died 10 days after she was stabbed, doused in an accelerant and set on fire in April 2006. Prosecutors say Mr. Brown was angry because the pit bull mix, whom he named Brandy, would not breed. The worst burns were near her genitals, photographs show.

Andrew Esparza, the alternate juror in the case who was dismissed before deliberations, said he had no doubt of Mr. Brown's guilt. It was the evidence as a whole and not any one witness or piece of evidence that formed his decision, Mr. Esparza said. He said the defense did not offer any testimony or evidence that made him question the state's case against Mr. Brown. It was "a lot of sleight of hand," said Mr. Esparza, who works in a bookstore and did not stick around to hear the verdict. Lead defense attorney Dan Wyde said after the verdict that it was too soon to discuss his thoughts on the case. He declined further comment.

Members of Operation Kindness, the group that cared for Mercy before she died, let out a quiet cheer when State District Judge Mike Snipes read the verdict. One woman crossed herself. "This is the outcome we hoped and prayed for," said Martha Powell of Operation Kindness. "Mercy can now rest in peace." Ms. Powell said the group hopes the jury gives Mr. Brown the maximum sentence. Mr. Brown's family did not appear to react to the verdict. They left without commenting. Several witnesses testified during the three-day trial that they saw Mr. Brown with a can of gasoline after the dog was set on fire. One witness testified that he saw Mr. Brown with a knife.

In closing arguments, prosecutors David Alex and Terri Moore said no one but Mr. Brown had a motive to hurt the dog. "There was only one person out there with a gas can in his hand, and it was Deshawn Brown," said Ms. Moore. "There was only one person out there that night who had reason to be mad at the dog." Defense attorneys said the case against Mr. Brown was circumstantial that there was no evidence Mr. Brown was the person who tortured the dog. Lee Westmoreland, another of Mr. Brown's attorneys, urged jurors not to let sympathy for Mercy outweigh Mr. Brown's rights. "In this room, it should be about evidence," he said. "What evidence do we have?"