I attended the sentencing of Duanying Chen on June 30, the young man who recently pled guilty to felony animal cruelty. The images and video of the puppy that Chen tortured were heartbreaking, infuriating, and absolutely soul shattering. What Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Brian Hill did at the end of he sentencing was more difficult and more heartbreaking to endure.
The District Attorney, the officer who investigated the crime and the veterinarian who worked to save the Doberman puppy — who was later renamed Davey — all testified in court that this was, by far, the most heinous act of torture and abuse they had witnessed in their careers. The veterinarian offered that she has worked in urban areas and has treated fighting dogs and many cases of severe abuse. Those cases did not compare to what this puppy suffered. The investigating officer was in tears trying to complete her testimony. Another officer involved as well as another veterinarian, were denied the right to testify because Judge Brian Hill felt that he already knew enough about the case and had read the reports. Their first-hand, expert testimony was dismissed.
The DA, the veterinarian, and the officer testified that Chen abused this puppy to the point of breaking multiple ribs and his leg; he burned him so severely with a lighter that his entire hind end and rear legs suffered horrendous third degree burns. The puppy’s skin was falling off while the vets worked to save him. The puppy could not stand or walk — perhaps because of the multiple broken bones or perhaps because of the spinal damage. He had been mutilated, and there was evidence of sexual abuse. The veterinarian testified that the varying levels of healing of the injuries created no doubt that the injuries occurred over a period of time and were not the result of a single act of abuse.
The DA, the officer, the veterinarian, Duanying Chen, his defense attorney, and the judge all agreed that these acts occurred and that Chen committed them. We saw video of this broken puppy, trying to stand but unable to, with no skin on half of his body and his penis mutilated. We saw the shocked and tortured look on his face, and we heard the sobs of those who were trying to help him. He could not be saved, and the veterinarian recommended euthanasia as the kindest course of action.
Chen expressed no remorse, stated that he did not understand what the big deal was when he was arrested, and was recorded telling his girlfriend to lie and get rid of any evidence. But facing the irrefutable evidence the DA’s office brought forth, Chen pled guilty.
At the sentencing, Judge Hill stated he had discretion to determine whether Chen would serve the maximum sentence of seven years, six months in state prison for felony animal cruelty. The DA’s Office, the investigating officer, the veterinarian, and thousands of people who wrote from all across the country asked that the maximum sentence be carried out as justice for the defenseless puppy that Chen so brutally tortured and mutilated.
Judge Hill stated that he recognized the heinous nature of the acts perpetrated against the puppy, that he believed that Chen was not remorseful, and that he understood the link between animal abuse and acts of violence against people. He further added that Chen clearly committed the acts on multiple occasions over a period of time and that he exhibited a pattern of behavior that was sadistic.
What he said next left the courtroom in shock. Judge Hill asked the defense attorney how much school Chen had left and what his chosen field was. No one understood why that mattered. He then stated that justice for these crimes is not best served by this young man, who could be rehabilitated and have a bright future, serving time in a state prison. He felt that probation, with treatment programs and restrictions on his rights to own an animal, were sufficient and would “send a message.”
In the end, Davey the puppy died after spending most, if not all, of his short time on Earth suffering unimaginable abuse. The man who did it to him will spend 365 days in County Jail (maybe) and serve five years probation. The law allowed for 7.5 years in state prison.
Judge Hill definitely sent a message. He sent a message to others who would inflict violence on animals that animal torture and abuse will go unpunished. He sent a message to the investigating officers and District Attorney’s Office that the work they did to build a case and secure a conviction was in vain. And, he sent a message to the thousands of people who wrote letters, pleading for the maximum sentence, and to all of those who worked so hard to ensure that animal cruelty would become a felony in all 50 states — that it really does not matter as much as the opinion of a single judge.
Today, the monsters won. I invite my fellow citizens to join me in asking our lawmakers to do something about that. Its time our animal cruelty laws reflect the will of the people. We must impose mandatory minimum sentences for felony animal cruelty convictions.
A March of Mourning for Puppy Davey takes place July 19 at 1 p.m. at Santa Barbara Courthouse Sunken Gardens.
Jill Anderson is cofounder of Shadow’s Fund animal rescue in Lompoc.