SALT LAKE CITY — A West Valley City man who stomped on the head of his ex-girlfriend's puppy and bashed the dog against a wall, in what was characterized as an effort to control the woman, was sentenced to prison Friday.
Anthony Richard Spidle, 22, was sentenced to zero to five years behind bars for one count of torture of a companion animal and received the same sentence for witness tampering. Both are third-degree felonies. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently.
Spidle is the first adult to be sentenced under a relatively new statute referred to as "Henry's Law," which refers to a dog that had been mistreated in a previous animal abuse case.
Spidle's attorney, Dean Zabriskie, argued that while there was no excuse for what happened to the dog, Spidle had been raised in a home fraught with physical violence, alcohol and drugs. Zabriskie said his client yearns to get rehabilitation so he can lead a better life. Zabriskie named two in-patient programs that Spidle's family would help pay for that could help him with substance abuse and anger management problems.
"He's ready to make a change," Zabriskie said.
He also stated that a mental health professional said that the "constant, familiar violence and drug abuse" Spidle witnessed while growing up contributed to him suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, prosecutor Gregory Ferbrache, who pushed for the prison sentence, said even in jail Spidle had tried to influence his ex-girlfriend and mother not to come to court and appeared to show remorse only when the possibility of prison arose.
Third District Judge William Barrett said he feared putting Spidle on probation now.
"If I put him on probation, he's out there and nobody's looking over his shoulder. They've got programs in prison," the judge said.
A key worry for Barrett was what Spidle would do outside of a structured environment, where he would have access to alcohol and drugs, which Spidle and his ex-girlfriend had admitted could change his behavior in a Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde fashion.
"I am so concerned about the kind of behavior that might occur at this stage that I don't want to take this risk," Barrett said. "He's 22 years old — it hurts my heart to do this. But I think he needs to go to prison."
Court documents show that, on March 21, 2009, Spidle pounded on his ex-girlfriend's puppy, Gabriella, and recorded the animal's cries and his angry verbal outbursts on voice mails intended for the former girlfriend.
While he was in jail, Spidle's phone calls were recorded and revealed that he tried to get his ex-girlfriend and mother to not come to court and to avoid anyone bearing legal papers so the state would not have a case against him.
As part of a plea bargain, another charge of witness tampering and a charge of aggravated assault of the former girlfriend were dismissed. Those also were third-degree felonies.
Spidle apologized to the court, his former girlfriend, and her family and his own family. He also asked for a chance to get help.
"I want to prove to you this is not the kind of man I am," he told the judge.
Barrett, however, remained unconvinced that Spidle should be freed at this time.
"I wish you the best, but I just feel like I need to do what I'm doing," Barrett said.
Later, Spidle's ex-girlfriend said she was relieved the case was over and that she hopes Spidle gets the help that he needs — but in prison. Asked if she thought he could change his behavior, she replied she thought it was possible, but "only if he wants to change."
Her mother, Tangalee Bemis, was pleased with the sentencing.
"It gives my daughter closure and the community closure. It sends a message that the community is not going to put up with this. Maybe he'll get the help he needs," Bemis said.
Anne Davis, executive director of the Animal Advocacy Alliance of Utah, said she understands that Spidle may have had a troubled childhood, but noted that many people have grown up in unwholesome or hurtful environments. Instead of harming others, many people who have had to overcome challenges chose to become animal advocates and do something positive.
Davis expressed some reservations about Spidle's ability to change, although it could be possible. "He needs a lot of work," she said.
Gene Baierschmidt, executive director of the Human Society of Utah, termed this as a landmark case.
"It sets a precedent for future cases, and it sends a message to anyone who might be thinking about torturing an animal that there are serious consequences," Baierschmidt said. "This is a great victory for the animals in Utah and the people."