Yesterday, 16 months after Justice died from burns suffered at a Pleasant Grove apartment complex, the last of the four men accused of dousing the dog in lighter fluid and setting it on fire pleaded guilty to animal cruelty charges.
Richard Valentine, 25, and 19-year-old Darius Ewing, the alleged ringleader, entered their pleas on Tuesday morning just as jury selection in their trial was set to begin. Ewing agreed to serve five years in prison. Valentine was sentenced to 15 months, as was 25-year-old Darius Carey, who pleaded guilty on Friday. Adrian Ayers, who admitted his guilt in June, will be locked up for two years.
But then Dallas County District Judge Larry Mitchell did something that no one expected: He ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Ewing had used a deadly weapon -- the lighter fluid in this case -- and lowered his sentence to two years. The decision dismayed animal rights activists, who have been watching the trial intently with an eye toward avenging Justice's death.
"I'm shocked," Jonnie England of the Texas Humane Alliance told WFAA. "All of us who were in the courtroom today are shocked. There was just no justice for Justice here today,"
DFW Rescue Me President Jim Wenger, who led the effort to save Justice and later tattooed the dog's picture on his arm, told The Dallas Morning News he was "speechless."
Prosecutor David Alex, meanwhile, had something to say: "As it stands right now, I've got to look at my other appellate options and see what I can do, but all I can say is I'm shocked," he told the paper. "I've never seen this before."
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That reaction was tame in comparison to the furor on social media. "Judge Larry Mitchell is an idiot!" reads one of the 75 comments on DFW Rescue Me's Facebook page, where there began an informal campaign to unseat the judge. "Wait until these men go on to torture and kill humans."
The outrage poured onto Mitchell's own Facebook page, where you'll find comments like "The injustice you have done to an innocent puppy is absolutely appalling and disgusting! You are a POS and I hope you dream and are haunted by that sweet innocent dog for the rest of your life! Shame on you."
The evidence suggests that such comments will be unlikely to sway Mitchell. He's made his decision. And he last posted on his Facebook page on October 2010.