The scene in the backyard of a home on Greenleaf Lane last summer was as disturbing as it was tragic: A pitbull, battered and barely breathing, lying beside a freshly dug grave with a bloody baseball bat nearby.
Inside the home were a half-dozen teenagers and 41-year-old Gerald McKinney.
This week, a six-person jury will decide whether McKinney was responsible for the mutilation of the dog, named Bootsie. McKinney's trial began Thursday in St. Joseph Superior Court and is expected to end today.
He faces two charges, mutilating an animal, a Class D felony, and animal cruelty, a Class A misdemeanor.
The incident occurred around 9:30 p.m. Aug. 4, when South Bend police were called to 5002 Greenleaf Lane after neighbors heard yelling and the cries of a dog. Bootsie's injuries were so severe she had to be put down.
No one was arrested the night of the incident, but in October, McKinney was arrested and charged with the crimes
Chief Deputy Prosecutor Mark Roule told jurors on Thursday that McKinney admitted to an investigator on the night of the incident that he beat the dog.
But Gary Griner, McKinney's defense attorney, argued that perhaps someone else beat the dog that night, and disputed whether McKinney's statements amounted to a "confession."
Griner told the jury that Bootsie had become "out of control" earlier that day and bitten a teen who lived at the house. Griner said the teen and his friends had locked the dog in the bathroom and called his mother, Danielle Luton, for help.
Luton, who was at work, called McKinney, her on-again, off-again boyfriend, to go to the house and check on the dog. Griner said McKinney moved the dog into the backyard then went back in the house and fell asleep.
McKinney was awakened by an investigating police officer, and was unaware that the dog had just been beaten nearly to death.
"The issue here is whether Gerald McKinney is the one who actually beat the dog, or whether it was someone else," Griner said.
Thursday's trial included graphic images of the beaten dog on a large screen in the courtroom.
One juror covered her mouth at the sight.
Griner objected to admitting the images into evidence, arguing they were unnecessarily graphic and would illicit an emotional response from jurors, but his objection was overruled by Judge Jane Woodward Miller.
Chuck LeMaire, the South Bend animal control officer called to the scene, described Bootsie's injuries to the jury, saying the dog was so badly maimed it was taking labored breaths every three or four seconds.
"It was covered in blood," he said. "... The skull appeared crushed, the jaw was broken on both sides, and was hanging loose when I felt it."
LeMaire said he questioned Luton's son about what happened and the son pointed to McKinney and said, "You did it."
LeMaire said McKinney acted surprised at the accusation, "but it was my perception he was feigning surprise, stalling maybe."
According to LeMaire, McKinney then admitted that he had beaten the dog inside the house.
"I asked him directly if he was the one that hit the dog (in the house) ... and he said, 'Yeah, I did it.'"
LeMaire testified that McKinney made the statement with his shoulders slumped, looking down and in a low tone of voice.
Judge Miller adjourned the trial for the day before LeMaire was finished with his testimony and before Griner cross-examined him.
The trial will resume today at 9:15 a.m.
If convicted, McKinney would face up to three years in prison for the felony charge, and one year in the St. Joseph County Jail for the misdemeanor.
State prison records indicate that McKinney has served time for three battery convictions and, most recently, an armed robbery out of Kosciusko County.
McKinney was scheduled to go on trial in April, but the judge declared a mistrial after the defense and prosecution were unable to find impartial jurors out of a pool of 22, blaming pretrial publicity.
On Thursday, a six-person jury and two alternates were impaneled within less than five hours.