A Sandgate woman who shot her family’s pet dog on Boxing Day in 2019 has been convicted of a felony.
Joyce Cornell, 48, was found guilty of aggravated animal cruelty by torture on Friday after a bench trial, in which a judge weighs the evidence and delivers the verdict.
Superior Court Judge Cortland Corsones announced his verdict about two weeks after Cornell’s May 31 trial in Bennington. Corsones concluded that Cornell intentionally, maliciously and without cause tortured a Great Dane by shooting him twice in her home on December 26, 2019.
“Ms. Cornell had a bad intention to harm the animal,” the judge said during the hearing. “I find from the evidence that she was angry with the dog the night before. She was fed up with the dog as a result of his actions the night before, and she decided to shoot the dog, and she did.
Aggravated animal cruelty is punishable by up to five years in prison, but Corsones said he would consider deferring any prison time. Cornell is due in about six weeks.
Cornell testified at trial that she had been playing with the dog, named Atticus, that Christmas afternoon when the animal bit her ankle. She said she barricaded herself in the bathroom for about 15 hours, until the next morning when the dog calmed down and indicated that he wanted out.
During these events, Cornell’s husband testified that he was sleeping after drinking too much on Christmas Day.
Cornell said she tethered the dog to her running line and then heard him pacing back inside from the cold. She said she opened the front door and its screen door, and saw the dog growl and bare its teeth. She said she got scared and shot it with a handgun she got for protection.
Nearly an hour later, when she heard the dog move, Cornell said she pulled it again from the bathroom window. “I wanted to put him out of his misery, because he’s hurt because of me,” Cornell said on the witness stand.
A clinical psychologist who testified for the defense supported Cornell’s assertion that she had no ill intent in shooting the animal.
The morning the Great Dane was shot, a garbage man saw the dog tied up in the yard and the doorstep of the house covered in blood. State troopers responding to the report arrived to find the animal bleeding profusely in the chest from a neck injury. A staff member from the Second Chance Animal Shelter in Arlington, where the Cornells had adopted him in November 2019, also came to the scene.
At the suggestion of the shelter staff member, a soldier euthanized the dog, with three shots. It happened about six hours after the animal was first shot, police said.
The prosecutor claimed that Cornell intentionally, maliciously and without cause tortured the dog – issues at the center of the trial.
Bennington County Assistant District Attorney Alex Burke said Cornell made the conscious choice to grab a gun while the animal was tied, knowing that shooting a dog would likely result in death.
He said she also left the dog bleeding outside for about 45 minutes, without providing assistance or treating his injuries, before shooting the animal a second time. Burke said Cornell had alternatives to shooting the rescue dog.
Judge Corsones, in announcing the sentencing, said he had found beyond a reasonable doubt that Cornell had tortured the dog by shooting him twice, causing him physical pain and suffering.
The judge said he found ‘evil intent’ in Cornell’s actions and a lack of compassion as she was not in danger both times she shot the dog as he was still attached to the racing line.
“If she had acted with compassion, she would have let the dog stay outside and be cold and wait for her husband to wake up rather than approach the dog with a gun and decide to shoot him,” Corsones said.
He added that if she was worried about having a vicious dog at home, she could have returned him to Second Chance Animal Shelter. The court had heard testimony that Cornell and her husband adopted Atticus, they returned to the shelter, expressing concerns about the dog’s behavior, but did not follow up on the shelter’s offer of help.
The judge also said Cornell’s sister-in-law is a veterinarian and could have helped them with the Great Dane.
At Friday’s hearing, Cornell also pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge for providing false information to a law enforcement officer investigating the dog shooting.
She admitted to lying to the soldiers when asked if anyone else was inside her house. She had said no, when she found out that her husband, Scott Cornell, had been inside the residence.
When soldiers entered the house, they found him – along with 23 firearms, including rifles and shotguns. He was not allowed to own firearms because he was a convicted felon of a violent crime.
In April 2021, Scott Cornell pleaded guilty to 10 misdemeanor counts of prohibited possession of a firearm under an agreement with the Bennington County State’s Attorney’s Office. Corsones sentenced him to one to three years in prison, all suspended, and placed him on probation for 18 months.
The prosecutor previously dismissed another felony charge of aggravated cruelty to an animal by causing Joyce Cornell undue pain. The state alleged that she killed the dog, but her attorney, Rick Burgoon, argued that it was state troopers who killed the animal when they euthanized it.
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