ELLSWORTH — Justice Robert Murray Nov. 14 found a Steuben man guilty of aggravated animal cruelty in the August 2018 death of Boston terrier-pug Franky.
The dog had belonged to a Winter Harbor lobsterman whom the defendant, Justin Chipman, 24, had occasionally worked for.
Chipman is free on bail. His sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2020, at 1 p.m.
A case against Chipman’s co-defendant, Nathan Burke, 39, of Hancock, is still pending. There are outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Franky died of a gunshot wound to the throat, according to a report submitted as evidence, said Deputy District Attorney Toff Toffolon.
The gun was never recovered and neither was a bullet, according to Chipman’s defense attorney, Robert Van Horn. There are still unanswered questions.
According to court testimony, Chipman and Burke took lobsterman Phil Torrey’s Hummer while he and his family were in New Hampshire. Toffolon said Franky was lured into the vehicle with a piece of cheese and the men then took the Hummer for a joyride. There was a half-eaten piece of cheese found in the backseat. At some point, Franky was killed.
In addition to the aggravated cruelty to animals charge, Chipman was charged with burglary, theft by unauthorized taking or transfer, unauthorized use of property and aggravated criminal mischief.
Van Horn motioned for acquittal before closing statements.
Ultimately, Murray denied acquittal for four of the charges but did grant the acquittal for the charge of aggravated criminal mischief. Chipman was found guilty of the other charges.
The criminal mischief complaint was connected with damage done to the Hummer. Justice Murray agreed with Van Horn that the state did not introduce any evidence that the vehicle had sustained $2,000 worth of damage.
Van Horn, in his argument for acquittal as well as in his closing statement, cited a lack of “direct evidence” tying his client to any of the crimes.
Toffolon said the amount of circumstantial evidence in the case was “substantial.”
Toffolon cited Chipman’s departure from the area within a day of authorities discovering the dead dog.
“Where is Mr. Chipman? He’s fled to Bangor and secured a hotel room, where he stays until Sept. 2,” Toffolon said.
Toffolon said Chipman had motive to kill Franky because Chipman’s dog and Franky had an altercation two weeks earlier.
Chipman and his co-defendant were aware that Torrey and his family would be out of town because Torrey had invited them along and they had declined, the prosecutor said.
There was some conflicting testimony during the trial.
Torrey testified that upon returning from New Hampshire, he found empty alcohol containers in the Hummer.
Winter Harbor Police Officer Eli Brown testified that he found an empty Coke bottle and an empty Red Bull bottle in the vehicle.
The state also called Torrey’s sister, Doreen Eschete of Louisiana, to testify.
Eschete was tasked with taking care of Franky and Torrey’s other dog, Budget, while Torrey and his family were in New Hampshire the weekend Franky was taken.
Only Torrey’s other dog, Budget, was in the house when Eschete checked on the animals the day after Torrey left town. Franky was nowhere to be found.
Eschete testified finding several doors and cabinet doors open in the house when she stopped to check on the dogs.
Franky’s body, which had been wrapped in a plastic bag, later washed up at the shorefront residence of Hancock County District Attorney Matt Foster in Hancock.
Foster testified about opening the garbage bag that contained the dead dog after his wife found the package on the beach in front of their home.
Foster said he kicked the package before opening it and it “felt malleable.” He said he suspected deer parts or something similar might be in the bag because it appeared to have movement inside.
“Decomposing bodies, in my experience as a former combat medic, give off gases, so I suspected there was something organic,” Foster said.
A warrant charging failure to appear was issued for Chipman’s co-defendant, Nathan Burke, earlier this fall, Foster said on Tuesday.
The warrant was issued after Burke did not show up for a court appearance on a bail violation charge.
A state trooper had charged Burke with violating bail after reportedly finding a firearm in Burke’s possession, Foster said.
Because Burke has failed to appear, Foster’s office has filed a motion to revoke Burke’s bail in the Franky case.