Judge bars key evidence — a puppy’s remains — in Miami Beach animal abuse case
12/06/2013 5:21 PM
12/06/2013 9:53 PM
Molly, the beagle puppy, Miami-Dade prosecutors say, died a vicious beating death at the hands of her owner.
But their case was delivered a significant blow Friday when a judge ruled that prosecutors cannot use as evidence the results of the medical examination of Molly’s remains. The reason: investigators illegally seized the dog’s body from a veterinarian’s clinic, said Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne Colodny.
She ruled that the beagle, which had been left at the animal clinic to await cremation, nevertheless belonged to defendant Matthew Milewski — and he never gave cops permission to take the puppy’s remains.
“It was necessary for law enforcement to obtain consent from the owner … or to obtain a lawful warrant before seizing and searching the animal,” Colodny wrote in her seven-page order.
The ruling is a setback for prosecutors, who say their necropsy revealed that Molly likely died of a severe brain injury. The dog appeared to have been shaken and slammed against a hard surface, and may have been smothered, a veterinarian concluded.
Without the necropsy results, the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office may be forced to drop the felony animal abuse charge against Milewski, the puppy’s owner. Prosecutors have not decided whether to appeal the judge’s ruling.
Milewski’s defense attorney, David Macey, hailed the decision.
“Unfortunately, Miami Beach police distorted the truth and tarnished this case,” he said. “Therefore, I applaud the judge’s decision to uphold the principles of the U.S. Constitution.”
The defense says its own expert believes the necropsy was flawed and the results grossly exaggerated.
Molly’s death received widespread publicity, with an online petition entitled “Justice for Molly” receiving over 33,000 signatures.
Authorities allege Milewski, who had just bought the new puppy in November 2011, dragged her across a parking lot of his Miami Beach condo building until she bled, beating her with a leash and slamming her into a hard surface.
A valet attendant told police he heard a “loud scream from a dog” and saw Milewski violently hitting the puppy with a leash.
Milewski, 26, denied the allegation to police, saying he was merely following training instructions from a shock collar he had bought to train Molly.
He told Miami Beach police detectives Tracy Sierra and Gus Sanchez that he took Molly back to his apartment after he noticed one of her paws bleeding. He claimed that the dog bit him as he tried to wash off her paw and he dropped the dog in the shower.
Milewski said after the dog hit the shower floor, he tried to revive her. He took the animal to the Alton Road Animal Hospital, where she was stabilized and her heart was beating normally.
But because the X-ray machine was broken, a vet suggested Milewski take the dog to a clinic in Coral Gables.
But just after he left, the dog suddenly died, Milewski claimed. He returned to the Miami Beach clinic with the body, which was placed in a freezer.
The clinic later allowed Animal Services to take the body away for the necropsy, and a Miami Beach police probe was initiated.
Prosecutors maintained that Milewski gave up his right of privacy for the dog after he gave up the body to the clinic, electing a “group cremation” in which he would not be returned the ashes. But Judge Colodny disagreed.
“Pet owners have an ongoing interest in ensuring that their final wishes for an animals’ interment be honored,” Colodny wrote. “Without a warrant, without consent, law enforcement should not be permitted to interfere with the rights and wishes of the property owner.”
Prosecutors will announce their decision on whether to appeal on Thursday.
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