Emotional and sometimes graphic testimony filled the room at Albemarle County Circuit Court Wednesday.
Michael Mullins admitted to killing a hunting dog on his property, but will serve no jail time. The dog was killed after hunters say the beagle got onto Mullins' property near Scottsville last November. Mullins faced charges including felony larceny of a dog, larceny of a tracking collar, removing an electric dog collar, and animal cruelty.
Mullins wept openly in court as he pleaded to four misdemeanors. He entered alford pleas to animal cruelty and unlawfully removing the hunting dog's GPS collar. An alford plea means the court will proceed as if Mullins pleaded guilty, but he does not admit guilt. Mullins did plead guilty to petit larceny in regards to the GPS collar and possessing marijuana.
Mullins said in court he "did not bring this on" and was not actually guilty of animal cruelty or removing the dog's GPS collar. Both acts are crimes in Virginia if the dog wanders onto private property during a hunt.
Mullins did admit to killing the beagle named Bob. He said he did it out of mercy, not because he was on his property. He says the dog had been gravely injured. Mullins says he had found the beagle crying in pain after his own rottweiler attacked the dog. Mullins said he used a rock to kill the beagle. A veterinary report was consistent with Mullins' claim that the dog was already injured.
In November, when the incident initially took place, the hunters told a different story. They said that Mullins brutally shot the dog because it wandered onto his property.
Testimony and evidence presented during this case is shedding light on a bigger, ongoing issue in the community between property owners and the hunters. Court documents uncovered during the case and Mullins' attorney's statements to the court suggest there may be hunters killing whole groups of dogs. Incident reports show burial grounds of dogs that, according to the defense, were killed by hunters, because they were no longer needed for the hunt.
Neighbors testified and police reports show hunters from a nearby hunt club, identified in court documents as Woodridge Hunt Club, repeatedly trespass on private property despite signs and requests to stop. Neighbors testified that they lived in fear of hunters. One even built a concrete wall to protect himself.
Mullins made an emotional final statement before sentencing. He said the ongoing dispute between property owners and hunters is not over, and he expects this case may have aggravated this situation.
As the judge prepared to issue the sentence, he suggested this may be an issue for Albemarle County supervisors, although he said he did not know what the remedy is.
In court, the judge said he believed Mullins and suspended his entire 150-day jail sentence pending good behavior. During the sentencing hearing, friends, relatives and neighbors testified that Mullins was a peaceful and honest animal lover.
The prosecution made it a point to explain that many hunters follow the rules - but some don't. Mullins' attorney refused to comment about the case, citing the ongoing dispute between property owners and hunters.
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