A former telephone repairman who threw a fluffy white dog to its death in traffic was convicted Tuesday of felony animal cruelty charges.
Andrew Burnett, 27, faces three years in prison for killing Leo, the beloved 19-pound bichon frise of Sara McBurnett, near the San Jose airport in February 2000.
The road rage case shocked the public. Dog lovers and others donated $120,000 to find Leo's killer more than the reward fund in several local missing child cases.
"It doesn't bring Leo back but at least Leo had his day," McBurnett said Tuesday morning after the verdict. "One cruel person has been accountable for their cruelty."
Burnett sat motionless as the verdict was read in a courtroom teeming with onlookers and media. McBurnett, seated near the back of the courtroom, held a friend's hand tightly and nodded.
The jury deliberated for less than an hour. Sentencing is scheduled July 13.
McBurnett and other witnesses testified that Burnett walked briskly back to her car after a rainy-day fender bender, yelled, reached in through her window, grabbed Leo from her lap and threw him into oncoming traffic.
Burnett never took the stand in his own defense, but his lawyer said he grabbed the dog because it bit him on the hand. That defense strategy clearly backfired, prosecutor Troy Benson said.
"Andrew Burnett is the only person in the whole world who would think this was reasonable," Benson said after the verdict.
McBurnett's frequent appearances on national television kept the pressure on beleaguered local police.
"The entire nation and the world were so outraged by this," Benson said.
McBurnett said she was relieved and satisfied. She plans to testify again at Burnett's 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."
She said that after Leo died, she had him cremated and spread his ashes along the shore of Lake Tahoe.
Burnett's attorney, Marc Garcia, said his client instinctively snatched the dog from the car after it bit him.
"We were optimistic when this trial began that the court of public opinion would be checked at the door," Garcia said.
But, he said, that was not the case.
"The deck was so stacked against him in this case from day one," Garcia said.
published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed