Today is another victorious day on the road to justice for Phoenix – one of the two teens who burned the Jack Russell Terrier puppy in Buffalo has pleaded guilty to a felony count of aggravated animal cruelty.
Diondre L. Brown, 17, admitted that he acted as a lookout for Adell Zeigler, 19, while he doused the puppy in lighter fluid and set him ablaze. He has pleaded guilty to the highest charge for which he could have been convicted. Zeigler has also been indicted today on the same charge.
Brown could serve a two-year term in prison, but may avoid hard time altogether if he continues to cooperate. Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III was not pleased at this prospect.
“People may ask ‘How come setting an animal on fire is the lowest felony?’” Sedita asked. “Anybody who engages in such behavior, if proven in a court of law, is twisted. And they should be appropriately punished. My problem is I can only enforce the laws the way these laws are written. I can’t enforce them the way I wish they were written.”
Prosecutors suggested Brown get youthful offender status for his “minimal” participation in the puppy-torturing.
“He acted as the lookout; whereas Mr. Ziegler, we believe is the principal actor,” Sedita said. “And given his pronounced and severe psychiatric trauma he has gone through, I felt it was appropriate,” Sedita said of the youthful offender recommendation.
Brown’s attorney, Andrew C. LoTempio says his client suffers from post-traumatic stress since witnessing the brutal 2005 quadruple homicide of his mother, uncle and family friends. But to many, this is no excuse for participating in such a heinous act.
Brown says his uncle Adell is completely responsible for what happened.
“I was telling him to stop. Why do you have to kill the dog?” Brown said in a telephone interview from the Erie County Holding Center.
Zeigler told police that his nephew was the culprit, “Because he’s already got felony [convictions] and doesn’t want that kind of [prison] time on him,” according to Brown.
It is still unknown who the puppy belonged to and how he came to be in the possession of Zeigler and Brown.
Phoenix is still recovering, and doing better every day. His ears have been amputated and he has received skin grafts for the most damaged parts of his body. He is scheduled for another skin graft Thursday. His left hind leg is in a cast, and may need to be removed because of a bone infection.
“You can already see the behavior change from a few weeks ago until now … He loves to be silly and play and maybe question your authorities sometimes, just like little two-year-olds do,” said Rebecca Wagner, Phoenix’s primary veterinarian. “[He] barks at other dogs, he wants to play with his toys. He accepts a lot of attention from basically anyone who wants to give it to him.”
Many are hoping for the chance to adopt Phoenix, but for now, they will have to wait.
Phoenix hams it up for the camera: