Shooter of therapy dog given jail time, $10k fine

HUDSON—Linda DeRosa, 62, of Martindale admitted in court this week to deliberately killing her neighbors’ pet dog with a rifle for no justifiable reason.

Appearing in Columbia County Court before Judge Jonathan Nichols the morning of Wednesday, September 2, Mrs. DeRosa pleaded guilty to aggravated cruelty to animals, a class E felony, under state Agriculture and Markets Law (“Buster’s Law”). The guilty plea came in connection with her shooting of the Earner family’s dog, Sunday, June 14, while Ilze Earner and her two daughters were at church.

Mrs. Earner’s husband, Laurence, was at home at the time of the shooting and guests were staying in a separate house on the property. Poppy, a 3-year-old female Great Pyrenees and Newfoundland mix that resembled a giant white teddy bear, was outside on the Earner’s property when she was killed.

Poppy was a therapy dog and companion animal for Kristine, the Earner’s 12-year-old adopted daughter, who had suffered “severe abuse and neglect” as a youngster. Kristine found her dog dead when she arrived home from church that day.

Court proceedings were far from routine, as Judge Nichols had to tell Mrs. DeRosa to refrain from covering her face with a paper towel she was holding up to prevent a television cameraman from taking her picture. Since he had ruled that proceedings could be filmed within certain guidelines, the judge said hiding her face in a public courtroom during the plea was “not appropriate,” as he needed to see her face and it might also impair the court reporter from hearing her.

Judge Nichols then had to turn up his microphone and speak in a loud voice throughout the proceeding because Mrs. DeRosa had difficulty hearing him.

Responding to questions posed by the judge establishing elements of the crime and her actions, Mrs. DeRosa said she knew the dog belonged to her neighbor, she even knew it was a companion animal and therapy dog for the neighbor’s daughter, yet she killed the dog in “a depraved or sadistic manner,” intending to cause the animal “extreme physical pain,” according to court documents.

At the request of District Attorney Paul Czajka, Mrs. DeRosa further admitted she did not know whether the dog had died immediately after having been shot with the .22 rifle or whether it bled to death and suffered in the process. She also agreed that she had not ascertained whether the two houses on the Earner property were occupied, though there were automobiles in both of the driveways.

Mrs. DeRosa pleaded guilty in conjunction with a plea agreement, which calls for her to be incarcerated for six months, followed by five years of probation or post-release supervision. She must also pay the victims $10,000 in restitution prior to her sentencing on October 28. In addition she will have to pay various surcharges and to provide a DNA sample and pay a fee for that as well.

The agreement also calls for her to sell the house she owns with her husband at 31 Palmer Road, next door to the Earners. She must obey a court order of protection, which is in effect for the entire Earner family; she is not to go on their property, to their schools or places of employment. She must surrender all her firearms and is precluded from owning pets. She has to report to a probation officer on a regular basis and if she does anything to violate her probation, she will have it revoked and will have to spend two years in jail (the maximum sentence for her crime.)

Judge Nichols noted that he is not bound by the plea agreement and if he finds something objectionable about it before sentencing he can throw it out and convey a higher sentence.

Under a temporary order of protection, Mrs. DeRosa was not to return home and must report to the probation department directly following the court proceeding. Though this was part of the agreement and had been discussed with her previously, Mrs. DeRosa had some issue with the order not to return home, mumbling that she would not move out today, while her attorney, Public Defender Ian Crimmins, and DA Czajka spoke to the judge in a sidebar.

The order was subsequently modified to allow her to go home that day to gather a few personal belongings with a State Police escort then leave.

She remained released on her own recognizance when proceedings concluded.

Mr. Earner, who was present in the courtroom with his attorney, told The Columbia Paper, “There is no cause for celebration here today. We are seeing some justice in a very expedited manner on the part of the DA and the court.” He paused and said, “I still miss that dog.”

DA Czajka said by phone following the proceeding, “It’s cruel enough to shoot a defenseless animal and a pet, but to do so when the animal is a critically important part of a child’s recovery from a horrific upbringing in Eastern Europe before being adopted by a wonderfully giving family, is just beyond cruel and depraved.

“Having met with the family several times since the crime, I know they appreciate all the messages from friends and neighbors and the hard work of the State Police and are happy with the promised sentence,” he said.

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