Alleged Murfreesboro animal abuse raises questions of TN law
MURFREESBORO, TN (WSMV) -
A Murfreesboro man is accused of a terrible crime: beating his own dog to death. But because of Tennessee law, he faces more serious charges for allegedly covering up the crime, than for what actually happened to the dog.
And that has animal rights experts saying the law needs to be fixed.
Jesse Steelman, 21, still has the very dog he's accused of killing as his Twitter profile photo.
Murfreesboro police said he tried covering up the alleged crime, which happened at a Murfreesboro house on Tulane Court in August.
Steelman claimed his roommates were the ones who abused 10-month-old Nala, who was found in her kennel barely alive. The dog later died.
"The dog died from a severe beating. The injuries included lacerations, broken bones, a lacerated liver," said Murfreesboro police spokesperson Sgt. Kyle Evans.
Steelman ordered an autopsy be done and wanted a full investigation.
His roommates were ruled out as suspects, and Steelman was charged with filing a false report, a felony, but the animal cruelty charge he's facing is basically the equivalent of a traffic ticket.
"Animals are often overlooked in the scheme of things. They are seen as property in the eyes of the law. The animal cruelty charge is a misdemeanor," Evans said.
Advocates with Rutherford County Pet Adoption & Welfare Services, or PAWS, said the animal cruelty laws in Tennessee need some clarification. They say often times officers' hands are tied as to what to charge animal abusers with.
"It's fairly easy for us to prove that somebody did an act in a depraved manner, but it's very difficult for us to prove it was done in a sadistic manner, meaning that they got gratification out of that act," said PAWS director Michael Gregory. "If that law was changed to say 'or' rather than 'and,' it would make our job easier to prosecute that under a felony."
When Nala was only 12-weeks-old, Steelman took her to a veterinarian for a broken leg, saying her leg was caught up in her tether.
"You can see the obvious break at the bottom," said veterinarian Dr. Michele Preston, while pointing at an X-ray of the dog.
Now, police may be looking into that as well.
"There were no rope burns or anything really external except a lot of bruising, but, no, it looked more like hit by a car or blunt trauma," Preston said.
The dog's leg was later amputated by another veterinarian.
After Steelman allegedly admitted to killing his dog, his girlfriend at the time packed up and left, and filed a domestic harassment report. She also has an order of protection to keep him away from her.
Channel 4 News spoke with Steelman by phone to try and get his side of the story. He said he didn't want the story on TV, and claims it has already been blown out of proportion.
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