After several hours of deliberation, a jury returned a verdict of not guilty in the felony animal cruelty trial of Tyrone McGill, the former animal shelter manager indicted in August 2010 following a May '10 incident at the Dallas animal shelter involving a cat trapped behind a wall that wasn't freed until long after it had died. Upon hearing the verdict, the 61-year-old McGill, a slight man, removed his round glasses and sank into his seat, where he rocked back and forth, seeming to sob silently. He then sat for a long moment at the table, his eyes shaded with his hand. When he finally recovered enough to stand, he thanked the judge and hugged his family members before leaving the courtroom.
Out in the hallway, McGill told a small crowd of reporters, "I thank God, my team, family and my friends." He said that his time on leave had been "frustrating," adding, "I'm not ready for retirement." Although he wants to return to work for the city of Dallas, which has been paying him since putting him on administrative leave last year, where he'll land is "not up to me." At the moment, he's still employed in code compliance, the department of which Animal Services is a division.
During closing arguments this morning, the prosecution never argued that McGill had deliberately tortured the cat. Rather, attorneys said he took little action to rescue the animal himself, and prevented his employees from cutting a hole in the wall to remove the cat, both of which constituted torture in their "reckless disregard" for the animal's well-being.
"He's not guilty because he allowed it to happen," Assistant District Attorney David Alex told the jury. "He's guilty because he prevented [the cat from being rescued]. ... There was a culture of fear and intimidation going on at that shelter."
"I know you've seen some pictures that are disgusting," ADA Brandon Birmingham told the jury, referring to pictures of the cat's rotting corpse that were briefly shown during the first day of the trial. "But there's only one way to show you what the reckless conduct of Mr. McGill did." The responsibility for the cat's death was McGill's, Birmingham said. "If he's not responsible, nobody is." It didn't matter whether the cat had been someone's pet or a feral creature, he said (it was never established in the trial if the cat in fact belonged to anyone). "That poor cat in the wall is an animal. ... Feral cats deserve protection too."
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But defense attorney Anthony Lyons argued that prosecutors had failed on all counts to prove their case. "They haven't proved how that cat died," he told the jury. "What if the cat died from normal causes?" For that matter, he continued, "Where is the cat? This is a criminal case. That cat was evidence. Where is the cat?" He argued that an animal cruelty officer, one of the prosecution's central witnesses, had never even talked to McGill to see what the manager had done to rescue the cat.
Lyons referred the jury back to the group of witnesses he produced yesterday, which included both Equipment and Building Services staffers and shelter staff, who said they had helped McGill look for the cat, set traps, lift ceiling tiles and throw food in an attempt to rescue the cat.
"I brought you every person who did something with this man to get that cat out of the wall," Lyons said. "They're not giving him credit for nothing he did, and he did something every day."
"That's an innocent man," Lyons said, gesturing at his client, shortly before he concluded. "He did too much to be sitting here."