AR-News: Guilty, on a felony charge of killing a dog (VA)

Animalsav at Animalsav at
Fri Feb 13 13:41:10 EST 2004

Mr Coleman's photo is available on this site, download and distribute before 
it goes away;

This DA/prosecutor deserves praise for taking the heat over charging with a 

STAUNTON -- An Augusta County jury found a Deerfield man guilty Thursday on a 
felony charge of shooting a companion dog, something the prosecutor said is 
unprecedented in Virginia. 

But James C. Coleman, the man who shot and killed Mosby, a 6-year-old 
malumute-husky mix and arguably one of the most famous dogs in Staunton's history, 
was spared time behind bars. The 67-year-old, a survivor of two heart bypass 
operations and in failing health, was fined $1,500. 

A visibly relieved A. Lee Ervin, the county Commonwealth's attorney, said, "I 
feel vindicated. I took some heat for charging him with a felony." 

It was Ervin, though, who carefully picked apart Coleman's story after he 
took the stand. 

On the night of Aug. 7, Mosby, and a second dog, Doc, escaped from the 
Deerfield home of John and Carole Adams while the couple carted in bags of 
groceries. Mosby, sprayed by a skunk earlier that day, was not wearing a collar or his 
tags, which were left sitting in a cleaning solution. 

Despite frantic attempts by the couple to locate the missing dogs, Doc and 
Mosby -- who became a downtown staple by tagging along with Carole Adams each 
day while she worked at Silver Linings -- would wander about four miles, 
reaching Coleman's home at 1:30 the next morning. Awakened by the animals, Coleman 
testified, "I thought they were under my house." 

The dogs, Coleman said, had cornered a skunk in between his house and an air 
conditioning unit. The skunk, frantically spraying in an effort to ward off 
the animals, saw its stench filter into Coleman's home through the AC system. 
Coleman said he opened his door and yelled for the animals to leave but said the 
100 pound Mosby responded by baring his teeth. 

"The hair was up on his back," Coleman said of the dog that was not wearing a 
collar. "And he was growling." 

Coleman testified that he went back into his home and grabbed a shotgun. "I 
loaded that gun, and I went back outside," he said. "That skunk's odor was 
strong enough to choke me." 

Coleman claimed that Mosby, a trained therapeutic dog that worked with the 
elderly, started toward him. "I shot him," he said. "I shot that dog because I 
feared for my safety." Doc made it home unscathed. 

Mosby, shot in the face, would eventually be found discarded in the George 
Washington National Forest in a black plastic bag alongside the dead skunk. 

The next day John Adams -- after spotting a reward poster at the Deerfield 
Post Office with a message scribbled at the bottom that read "See Jim Coleman" 
-- went to the Deerfield man's home and asked him about Mosby. Coleman denied 
having ever seen the dog. 

"I was shocked that somebody owned this animal," said Coleman when asked why 
he lied. 

Coleman's story on the stand differed from other stories he told following 
the shooting. A post office employee and a customer both testified that Coleman 
told them he shot Mosby after the dog turned and looked at him. Both said 
Coleman never mentioned that Mosby was acting aggressively or charged him. 

An Augusta County investigator also testified that Coleman failed to note 
that the dog was about to attack him. 

"How many different stories have you told about this, Mr. Coleman?" Ervin 

"I didn't give him a blow-by-blow account," Coleman responded. "I didn't 
think it was that important." 

Defense Attorney William W. Helsley, who asked the jury to focus on his 
client's lack of a criminal record and the fact that Coleman had been a law-abiding 
retiree since moving to the area in 2000, argued that the former machinist 
had a right to protect his property. 

"What motive does he have for committing a felony?" Helsley asked. 

The jury took nearly four hours to reach its verdict after becoming 
deadlocked, but found Coleman guilty after being sent back to deliberate one last time 
by Judge Thomas H. Wood. 

"It's about time we up the grade for shooting dogs," said John Adams, a math 
professor at James Madison University. "The court system took a big step 

Helsley instructed the court he will file a motion to set the verdict aside. 
Originally published Friday, February 13, 2004

Mike Rolland
Webmaster, forum moderator

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