The case of Molly, the Miami beagle puppy believed to have been savagely beaten to death by her owner in a case that drew worldwide publicity, might go to trial after all.
An appeals court Wednesday overturned a Miami-Dade judge who had crippled the prosecution of owner Mathew Milewski by ruling that police illegally seized the dog’s remains from a veterinarian’s clinic.
The ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal will allow prosecutors to show jurors evidence that Molly died of a severe brain injury and might have even been smothered by her owner.
Back in 2011, Molly’s death received widespread publicity, with an online petition entitled “Justice for Molly” gaining over 33,000 signatures.
Authorities allege Milewski, who had just bought the new puppy, 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, 28, denied the allegation to police, saying he was merely following training instructions from a shock collar he had bought to train Molly.
He told police 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 as he was taking the puppy to another clinic, the dog died, he said. He returned to the Miami Beach clinic with the body, which was placed in a freezer.
The clinic later allowed Miami-Dade County Animal Services to take the body away for the necropsy, and a Miami Beach police probe was initiated.
He was charged with animal cruelty. Milewski’s defense claimed the necropsy was flawed and exaggerated.
At the heart of the legal fight: whether investigators violated Milewski’s rights in seizing the dog’s remains.
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 given back the ashes. But Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Yvonne 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.”
Her ruling suppressed the key evidence in the case: the dog’s remains, the necropsy on Molly and testimony from the veterinarian, who examined the dead puppy.
But the Third District Court of Appeal on Wednesday agreed with prosecutors, ruling that Milewski “abandoned his expectation of privacy in the puppy’s remains.” The court ruled that only the dog’s medical records may remain shielded from jurors.
Assistant State Attorney Michael Von Zamft, who is handling the case, said on Wednesday: “Florida law has always said, right or wrong, that animals are property and when you abandon your property, there is no expectation or privacy and there is nothing to prevent it being used as evidence.”