For weeks, likely months, Diamond, a three-year-old pit bull — abandoned in an apartment unit by his owner with no food — died a slow, agonizing death.
Its skeletal remains were found in a suitcase, where its owner had put it.
Today, Diamond’s owner was sent to jail.
John Michael Corcoran of St. John’s showed no reaction when he was given a prison term of almost nine months, with 18 months’ probation. As part of the sentence imposed by Judge Jim Walsh, Corcoran is also banned from owning, having custody or control or residing in the same premises as an animal or bird for the rest of his life.
“Mr. Corcoran, in essence, tortured his dog,” Walsh said while handing down the sentence in provincial court. “He deprived it from nutrition and vital fluids for an extensive period — for at least several weeks and likely several months.
Corcoran, 33, had pleaded guilty to a charge of animal cruelty and was originally set to be sentenced April 26, but was a no-show in court. Walsh issued a warrant for his arrest. Corcoran — who wasn’t in custody at the time — turned himself into police on May 9 and had been in custody since that time.
He also pleaded guilty to charges of failing to attend court, a related court breach, along with unrelated charges possessing stolen property from the construction company he had worked for and breaching court orders for not residing where he said he would.
But it was the animal cruelty case that drew the most attention and public ire.
The details about the dog’s suffering were so disturbing, it caused the province’s chief veterinary officer to break down in tears.
While testifying at the first sentencing hearing a few months ago, Dr. Laura Rogers described it as the worst case of emaciation she’s seen in her 20 years of practice. Rogers was emotional as she described the suffering that Diamond had to have endured in the months leading up to its death.
“The evidence from Dr. Rogers is overwhelming ….,” Walsh said.
“The dog died from emaciation. It survived as long as it did by feeding itself internally from its fat stored, muscles and bone marrow. It constantly wailed and cried out, according to the neighbour.”
Walsh went on to say, “shockingly,” after the dog died, Corcoran put its remains in a suitcase and sealed it shut. He then put the suitcase in the basement of a Buckmaster’s Circle rental unit, where it was discovered on Aug. 15, 2015, by employees from the Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corp., who were there to prepare the unit for the next tenant. They reported seeing liquid seeping out of the suitcase.
“The dog died from emaciation. It survived as long as it did by feeding itself internally from its fat stored, muscles and bone marrow. It constantly wailed and cried out, according to the neighbour.” — Dr. Laura Rogers, the province’s chief veterinary officer
“I posed the question at the first sentencing hearing to Mr. Corcoran as to what he was thinking when he chose to allow his dog to starve to death. I did not receive an answer to my inquiry,” Walsh said. “It’s difficult to conceive a set of facts that would be worse than the facts of this case.”
The judge said, “it would relatively easy to justify a sentence of 12 to 18 months in prison for the tortured death of this dog. However, it’s important for the courts to exercise restraint,” he added, recognizing Walsh has never served time in jail before.
While Corcoran has a prior criminal record, the sentences he’s served included anywhere from a suspended sentence to a fine to a conditional sentence.
Walsh’s decision for a sentence was in keeping with what Crown prosecutor Robin Singleton had originally recommended in the first sentencing hearing. Today, Singleton suggested an additional two months be added for the failing to attend court charge and related court breach, stressing that Corcoran has a criminal record, which includes a previous charge for animal cruelty, for which he received a suspended sentence.
He also has two previous convictions for assault, three for court breaches, one for mischief by causing property damage and another previous
Corcoran’s lawyer, Rhona Buchan — who was retained just before sentencing — suggested a total sentence of six months in prison, with some of it being served behind bars and the rest in the community. She said it would be Corcoran’s first real jail sentence and this would give him the opportunity to reconnect with his family.
Buchan pointed out that Corcoran has completed several programs since being charged, including ones that focus on parenting. A letter from his social worker indicated he has a history of substance abuse, criminal activity and domestic violence. He sees his children with supervised visits.
During the first sentencing hearing, Corcoran apologized for what he did, pointing out that he’s lost everything, including his family.
He asked the judge to consider a conditional sentence. Walsh then told Corcoran, “Pack your toothbrush, because I tell you there will be some straight jail time.”
Today, Walsh pointed out that Parliament amended the Criminal Code of Canada in 2008 to increase the maximum sentence in such summary (less serious) cases to 18 months in jail, which Walsh said, reflects Parliament’s concern with the seriousness of the animal owner’s conduct. Up to five years in jail can be imposed for indictable (more severe) cases, he said.
“It is clear to me that his issues with anger management and domestic violence are continuing. It’s very clear that he has chosen to transfer his anger management issues and control to a dog that had been in his care,” Walsh said. “His maltreatment of this dog — that was supposed to be his pet, (which) depended on him for survival — points to someone who continues to demonstrate antisocial tendencies.”
Citing law, the judge said, “the gross neglect, suffering and starvation in this case are so serious that a conditional sentence is inappropriate.”
He said the jail term is sufficient enough to send a message to Corcoran, but not so long that it interferes with his rehabilitation prospects.
Several members of Rescue NL — a non-profit group which strives to help animals in trouble and address the problem of animal abuse and neglect in Newfoundland and Labrador — were in the courtroom to hear the case.
After proceedings, found and director Heather Ballard spoke to reporters.
“I think the laws in (this province) are behind the rest of Canada,” said Ballard, who said animal cruelty is often not reported or investigated as it should be. “For me, this was such a severe case, one of the worst cases I’ve ever read anywhere. … People have to realize that they have to have consequences for their actions.”
Ballard is not surprised by the attention this case has garnered, since there are so many animal lovers in this province.
“The fact that someone could watch a dog suffer day after day, I don’t know. I think people are just shocked,” she said. “Me, myself, I’ve thought about it and tried to figure out how someone could do that, why someone could do it, and there’s just no reason for it.”
She hopes the case and the media attention it’s gotten will send a message to animal owners to think twice about mistreating their animals.
“Sure, it’s still going to happen. Will they hide it better? I don’t know,” Ballard said. “But I do think it will definitely lessen some of what’s going on out there.”