The jury of five men and one woman who ended up voting to convict 65-year old David Delisio, of Olivebridge, of 21 counts of animal abuse June 12, was young, dressed casually but intent on keeping notes and paying attention to all the nuances of the case they were called upon to decide in Olive Town Court with a 9 a.m. start time.
One juror was replaced with an alternate for the final reading of the charges, and summaries from the prosecution and defense, after calling in at 9:45 a.m. because of “an emergency involving one of her pets.” Everyone seemed understanding, although the case had to go on.
Delisio was first indicted last spring after 22 dogs were found dead after a fire destroyed much of the barn they had been stored in. 21 of the animals were believed to have died of asphyxiation while another was said to have died from a dogfight prior to the fire.
Several years ago, Delisio had been tried — also in Olive Court — for maltreatment of his dogs following an Ulster County SPCA investigation. He was eventually granted an ACD (Adjournment Contemplating Dismissal) under the stipulation that he not end up back in court over the next 6 months and had all the dogs returned to him.
After much discussion, and previous decisions by Olive Town Justice Timothy Cox regarding the original charges, and actual evidence allowable in a trial, the current case against the Olivebridge resident included 21 charges of class A misdemeanor of Overdriving, Torturing, and Injuring Animals; Failure to Provide Proper Sustenance in violation of New York Agriculture and Markets Law section 353.
All previous mention of the fire itself, its causes, or the actual cause of death for the animals were not to be ruled on by the jury. Nor was the fate of the previously dead dog, who Delisio had identified as “Rudy,” or for that matter, the condition of the premises prior to the fire.
Much had been entered as evidence, and witnessed, as to the condition of the barn following the fire, when the dead dogs were found apparently malnourished amongst piles of dog excrement, which was said to have come from plastic bags that the Delisio hadn’t gotten rid of because of health problems.
On the morning of June 12, Cox answered several motions for dismissal of the case and mistrial from Deliso’s attorney Russell Schindler, who had argued that the charges were vague since they did not discriminate between the 21 dead dogs — citing the Patti’s Angel’s case involving 119 deceased animals from 2007. Cox denied all the motions, including Schindler’s supposition that sustenance definitions did not include clean living conditions, or the presence of feces, according to state ag and markets laws written in the 1850s. Schindler said it was impossible to prove each dead animal was exposed to the same conditions in the barn, or how the barn’s contents may have been dispersed during and after the fire.
After denying the motions, and before bringing the jury in to hear final arguments, Cox noted that “their verdict will rest or fall based on unanimity…the people conceded yesterday that what evidence there is, is applicable to all the dogs. The allegation is also that the animals were housed in a structure whose condition did not rise to the level of providing sustenance.”
The judge further noted a comma between the words sustenance and food in the law’s wording when Schindler brought the 1850 law up again.
Sustenance and sanitary living conditions
In the final round, after deliberating for less than two hours, the jury found that the defendant “failed to provide necessary sustenance to 21 dogs that he kept in a barn on his property,” as a county district attorney’s office press release put it.
“The dogs, ranging from forty pounds in weight up to ninety pounds were housed in a room in the barn that measured no more than twenty-three by twenty-five feet. When firefighters responded to the fire they discovered in the barn piles of animal feces, garbage, and the rotting carcass of a dog that defendant testified had died approximately a month prior to the June 7 fire,” the DA’s press release continued. “During the trial Assistant Fire Chief Terry Elmendorf testified that there were more animal feces present in the barn than he had observed on working livestock farms. Sadly, all twenty-one dogs that the defendant kept in the barn perished in the fire.”
Schindler, after the jury’s decision, continued to press his point about sustenance not including sanitary living conditions.
Adam Saunders, executive director of the Ulster County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said Delisio’s sentence is likely to bar him from owning domesticated animals for a period of time.
All parties are due back in court on July 2 for a status update on a presentence investigation ordered by Cox. An exact date for sentencing has not yet been set.