A Columbus man accused of starving his 16-year-old ex-girlfriend’s five dogs in a house filthy with animal feces and urine withdrew his guilty plea to five charges Friday when the judge refused to follow the sentence recommendation.
Samuel Hirt Russell, 24, was to serve six months in jail and four years on probation on five misdemeanor charges of cruelty to animals and one felony of making terroristic threats. But Superior Court Judge Bobby Peters said he would not impose that sentence because with credit for the time Russell already spent in jail, he’d likely serve only 10 to 20 days.
Defense attorney Robert Wadkins Jr. then withdrew his client’s guilty plea.
Russell was 21 when police went to his 17th Avenue home on Nov. 27, 2013, after his former girlfriend reported he had sent her a text message saying, “You have a bullet coming for you and the dogs will be hanging.”
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The girl told police she feared for the pets’ safety. One of the investigating officers later wrote on a warrant for Russell’s arrest:
“The rooms were filled with feces and urine. The five dogs had not eaten in weeks as witnessed by their condition. All five animals had their ribs and backbones showing. Food was found in home, however not placed where dogs had access.”
Police learned the girlfriend and her pets had lived with Russell before she moved back in with her parents, leaving the dogs in his care.
Wadkins told the judge Russell at the time could hardly care for himself, much less five animals: He was unemployed and bipolar, and needed extensive psychiatric treatment. Alone in the house, his mindset was bouncing from manic to depressive, the attorney said.
“He just wasn’t in a condition to take care of them,” Wadkins said of the five dogs.
Peters replied the pets’ needs should have been obvious, telling Russell: “These are helpless animals. They depend on you to take care of them.”
Wadkins said his client did not starve the dogs to get revenge on his ex-girlfriend. Russell simply could not cope with the circumstances: “This situation spiraled out of control in a month or two,” Wadkins said.
He said Russell since has had extensive psychiatric treatment and started taking medication. Under the conditions of Russell’s probation, he would be required to continue that treatment, and he would not be allowed to own pets or live where pets were present.
“I think this is a good move forward,” the attorney said.
Peters remained unfazed, saying he would not follow the sentence recommendation, so Russell did not plead.
Unless attorneys come to some other arrangement, the case will go to trial. Russell currently remains free on bond.