SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ A man was found guilty Tuesday of animal cruelty for tossing a small dog to its death on a busy highway after a minor traffic accident.
The jury took less than an hour to convict Andrew Burnett of the felony cruelty count. Burnett, 27, could face up to three years in prison in the killing of Leo, a 10-year-old bichon frise, in the highly publicized road rage incident.
Burnett sat motionless as the verdict was read in a courtroom teeming with onlookers and media. Dog owner Sara McBurnett, seated near the back of the courtroom, held a friend's hand tightly and nodded
Sentencing was set for July 13.
McBurnett, a real estate agent from Nevada, said that after a minor traffic accident in February 2000 the defendant yelled at her, reached in through her open car window with both arms and grabbed her dog.
Soon after, she spotted Leo running across two lanes of traffic, and the dog was struck seconds later. The fluffy white dog died later at a veterinary hospital.
``He was running terrified. I could tell by his eyes,'' she testified earlier this month. ``They just ran right over him in front of me.''
News reports about the incident spurred outrage among animal lovers. Citizens and well-wishers collected $120,000 in reward money for information leading to an arrest.
Closing arguments wrapped up Monday, without Burnett ever taking the stand in his own defense.
In his argument, prosecutor Troy Benson asked the jury to hold Burnett criminally accountable for the dog's death.
``It's just an angry man who did a grossly negligent act by throwing this dog into traffic,'' Benson told the jury.
``What was he thinking when he reached into the car and grabbed that dog?'' Benson said. ``Did he think Leo wanted a walk? Did he think the dog needed some fresh air?''
Burnett's attorney maintained that his client instinctively snatched the dog from the car after being bitten on the hand.
Defense lawyer Marc Garcia urged the jury to closely consider the requirement of finding gross negligence. He said the case a decision to find his client guilty of a felony should not be taken lightly.
``This isn't a game. This is real lives, real people,'' Garcia said.
McBurnett said she planned to testify again at the sentencing.
``It wasn't just a dog to me,'' she said. ``For me it was my child. He killed my baby right in front of me.''
The verdict, she said, ``doesn't bring Leo back but at least Leo had his day. One cruel person has been accountable for their cruelty.''
Burnett had been jailed in December on unrelated charges of grand theft, filing a false document in court and having a dangerous weapon while in jail. He was accused of stealing thousands of dollars worth of tools from his employer, Pacific Bell, and of lying to get out of a speeding ticket.