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December 03, 2011Knight Ridder/Tribune|by Cody Stark
HUNTSVILLE -- Former Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell still feels upset about the shooting death of his service dog DASY almost three years after the fact.
When the local war hero took the stand Thursday in the cruelty to non-livestock animals trial of Alfonso Hernandez, one of the two accused in the case, Luttrell said he was so angry the night his dog was killed that he drew a pistol on the car the suspects were riding in.
"I wanted to take a shot at the driver, but I figured if I missed and shot out the back window, I would not be able to catch them," Luttrell said.
An hour after DASY was shot on April 1, 2009, law enforcement officers eventually caught up to the car with Luttrell's help. And Thursday, Luttrell got some closure in the case.
Hernandez was found guilty of a state jail felony by a Walker County jury of four men and eight women in the 278th District Court.
Two days earlier, Michael Edmonds pleaded guilty to the same charge and admitted he was the one who fired the shot that killed DASY, a Labrador retriever that was given to Luttrell by friends to help him cope with emotional and physical injuries he sustained while fighting in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Edmonds and Hernandez, who was charged as an accomplice, will have to wait for a pre-sentence investigation to be conducted before a punishment is handed down, which is expected to take place in February. Cruelty to non-livestock animals carries a sentence of up to two years in a state facility and a $10,000 fine.
Luttrell, who left as soon as he finished testifying Thursday morning, is best known for being the lone survivor of a mission in June 2005 when his SEAL team was pinned down in a firefight with Taliban forces in Afghanistan. He was awarded the Navy Cross for combat heroism in 2006.
Luttrell had DASY, whose name is an acronym of the initials of Luttrell's team members who were killed in the firefight, for four years. He testified Thursday that at around 2 a.m. on April 1, 2009, he let DASY out and sat down in his home on Four Notch Road in southeast Walker County, to watch television because he had trouble sleeping.
Luttrell said he heard a single gunshot, grabbed his pistol and ran next door to his mother's residence to check on her. He then made his way down to the roadway, crawled underneath a fence and saw DASY had been shot.
"I saw my dog in a ditch and two men standing outside the car," Luttrell said with his new service dog by his side on the stand. "I could hear them laughing."
The car, which belonged to Alfonso Hernandez, was being driven by Caleb McGough. Edmonds and Arturo Hernandez, Alfonso's brother, were also passengers. McGough and Arturo Hernandez did not face charges in the case.
Edmonds testified that he shot DASY, but that the others wanted to go back and look at the dog. He said that Alfonso Hernandez then got out and started beating the dog with a wooden baseball bat.
Luttrell chased the suspects through Walker, San Jacinto and Polk counties before a patrol officer with the Onalaska Police Department pulled the car over on Highway 190 near the bridge over Lake Livingston.
The jury heard testimony this week from Texas Ranger Steve Jeter, who helped investigate the case, and Edmonds that Alfonso Hernandez and Edmonds were connected to other dog shootings prior to the incident on Four Notch Road.
"This time they shot the wrong dog, the dog of a man who can't sleep at night," Walker County Assistant District Attorney John Hafley said during closing arguments. " ... Everyone else would have been sleeping. They shot the wrong dog and this time they were stopped. ... (Alfonso Hernandez) is a dog killer who celebrated like they scored a touchdown."
Defense attorney Fritz Barnett challenged the state's lack of evidence that his client knowingly and intentionally took part in DASY's death. He said Alfonso Hernandez was out hunting varmints and had no idea Edmonds was going to shoot a dog.
"(Alfonso Hernandez) was out hunting rabbits, coons and possums," Barnett said in closing arguments. "... It would have been like if Mr. Luttrell had been out on patrol in Afghanistan and one of his men up and shot a woman or a child and Mr. Luttrell was held responsible. Alfonso was not responsible for what Mr. Edmonds did.
"... Going out and shooting dogs might have been in (Edmonds') mind, but there is no shred of evidence it was in Alfonso's mind."
Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Stroud went back to the testimony of Luttrell and Edmonds before the state rested its case. Luttrell said he heard laughing and Edmonds said Alfonso Hernandez laughed while he hit DASY with a bat.
"(Alfonso Hernandez) got out and kicked and beat that dog and thought it was funny. They thought it was just another dog," she said. "To Marcus Luttrell it was so much more. It was a symbol he carried around for what happened to him. He was reminded of the people it was named after. To Marcus Luttrell that was just not another dog."