MAN SENTENCED to three years in prison for tossing dog to its death

Friday, July 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) _ The man who tossed a fluffy little dog to its death in a bout of road rage last year was given the maximum sentence Friday: three years behind bars.

The courtroom erupted in applause as Andrew Burnett, 27, was sentenced for throwing the bichon frise named Leo into oncoming traffic after a fender-bender with the dog's owner. He was convicted of animal cruelty last month.

``I'm really sorry for what happened,'' Burnett said. ``If there's anything I could ever say or do to bring back Leo, I would.''

Judge Kevin Murphy rejected Burnett's plea for leniency, saying he feared he could harm someone in the future.

``It's a case of rage-induced violence,'' the judge said. ``I believe that prison can send a message and it can deter.''

Burnett never turned to look at Leo's owner, Sara McBurnett of Incline Village, Nev., during the hearing. McBurnett, who said she has sprinkled Leo's ashes over Lake Tahoe, said Burnett should have gotten 10 years.

``Words can never convey the depth of love I had for my dog Leo,'' McBurnett testified Friday. ``His clear intent was to terrorize me in the fastest and clearest way he could under the circumstances.''

The incident happened following a traffic accident near the San Jose airport in February 2000.

McBurnett and other witnesses testified that Burnett yelled at her, reached through her open car window, grabbed the dog and hurled it into traffic.

The 10-year-old pet was struck seconds later and Burnett sped away.

``It wasn't just a dog to me,'' McBurnett sobbed during the trial. ``For me it was my child. He killed my baby right in front of me.''

Defense attorney Marc Garcia said his client instinctively snatched the dog from the car after it bit him. But he was unanimously convicted, and the judge Friday ridiculed Burnett's claim as ``absolutely ridiculous.''

The Santa Clara County Probation Department had recommended a year in jail followed by probation.

The attack led to a widespread search for the dog's killer. The Humane Society was swamped by tips for months and $115,000 in donations were offered as a reward.

Authorities released a sketch of a suspect, but the investigation stalled after McBurnett failed to pick Burnett out of two photo lineups.

Burnett told the ABC News show ''20/20'' he did not come forward because he was nervous. ``I felt that this wasn't a crime, and I thought that it would just blow over,'' he said.

Police said an anonymous e-mail tipped them to Burnett, who has been jailed since Jan. 4 on charges connected to the disappearance of a van from his employer, Pacific Bell, that was filled with $68,000 worth of equipment.

Five people will split the reward money. Some $75,000 will go to John Mora, a San Jose man who witnessed the crime, and four others each will receive $10,000.

Among them was an unnamed person who served with Burnett in the Navy and told the media of a similar incident six years ago when the two were stationed in Puerto Rico.