PRINCETON — A magistrate ruled Thursday that there was probable cause in the case of a Mercer County man who was charged with felony animal cruelty after a puppy was beaten to death outside a Bluewell apartment complex.
Justin McKinley Mitchelson, 31, was brought before Magistrate William Holroyd for a preliminary hearing. Mitchelson was arrested Jan. 9 along with John Michael Wimmer, 25, and charged with felony animal cruelty, a charge which carries a sentence of one to five years in prison.
A woman picking up her grandchildren at Bluewell Elementary School called Mercer County 911 about 2 p.m. on Jan. 9 and said that she saw a man beating a puppy at the neighboring Kinser Apartments complex.
Senior Trooper D.B. Whited with the West Virginia State Police Princeton detachment testified that Mitchelson told him at the State Police barracks in Princeton, after being advised of his Miranda Rights, that he was the puppy’s owner. Whited said the puppy was about 8 weeks old.
During his testimony, Whited stated that Mitchelson and Wimmer said the puppy had consumed some Lysol, and that they had put it down because it was suffering. Mitchelson said he had asked Wimmer to kill it for him.
Whited testified that Mitchelson said he had owned the puppy, which he had received for free, and had not named it yet. Wimmer said the puppy’s name was Athena.
Mitchelson stated that “he couldn’t do it because it was his puppy and asked (Wimmer) to kill the puppy,” Whited said. Mitchelson was about 10 to 15 feet away when the puppy was killed.
“Specifically how was the animal executed?” Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Anthony H. Heltzel asked Whited. “Did they go into detail?”
According to Mitchelson and Wimmer, they took the puppy out to a stump and set it there. Wimmer then hit it with a log and the puppy’s back legs started quivering. He struck it a second time and the pup’s back legs were still quivering, Whited said. The puppy fell off the stump and Wimmer hit it a third time. A witness said the puppy was hit more than three times.
The puppy’s body was found on a small slope about 10 feet from the stump, Whited said. The remains have been sent to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. for an autopsy and toxicology report. Whited said he was told the report would be ready in two weeks.
Mitchelson and Wimmer said they had planned to bury the puppy after Mitchelson returned from buying cigarettes, Whited said. They were both still at the apartment when Whited arrived on the scene. Whited testified that he was at Bluefield Regional Medical Center when he received the 911 call, and arrived in five to 10 minutes.
Mitchelson’s attorney, J.J. McPherson, said in his closing argument that both his client and Wimmer were “men of limited means” who didn’t have money to pay a veterinarian, possess a firearm they could have used and did not know they could call animal control or take the puppy to a veterinarian to have it euthanized for free.
McPherson also argued his client and Wimmer did not try to hide what they had done or tried to hide evidence; and they did not bury the puppy immediately because they were upset.
“What they did that 10 minutes is grieve for the animal. They had just ended its suffering,” he said, adding they had the puppy only a week. Pee pads found at the apartment showed they were trying to train it.
Heltzel said in his closing statement that Mitchelson told Whited that Wimmer’s name was Cody, and that Wimmer had hidden from law enforcement and changed his clothes before Whited arrived on the scene.
“This was a malicious killing, your honor,” Heltzel told Magistrate Holroyd. “At no point did they try to do anything to ease this animal’s suffering.”
Mitchelson owned the puppy, and he “authorized” Wimmer to maliciously kill it, Heltzel stated.
Holroyd ruled that the case had probable cause. Mitchelson and Wimmer are being held at the Southern Regional Jail in Beaver.
Wimmer appeared Wednesday before Magistrate Sandra Dorsey for his preliminary hearing. Dorsey ruled the case had probable cause and sent it to the Mercer County Grand Jury.
‚— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org