Trial opens for man accused of killing pet dog in front of children

Mike Johnson

The Journal Sentinel

Waukesha, WI - A jury is being asked to decide whether a man is guilty of causing mental harm to a child and intentionally causing the 2009 death of their dog, which he is accused of kicking repeatedly in front of his children.

Assistant District Attorney Michele W. Hulgaard told the jury the evidence will prove that Michael H. Tessmer, 54, did just that when he kicked the 3-year-old black labradoodle 10 times as his children "watched horrified and crying."

But Tessmer's attorney, Daniel Fay, said his client did not intend to kill the dog and that he did not intentionally cause emotional harm to his son.

Hulgaard told the Waukesha County Circuit Court jury during opening statements in Tessmer's trial on Tuesday that Tessmer was upset because the dog, Zorro, had urinated and defecated in Tessmer's Town of Oconomowoc home while he and his then 11-year-old son and then 7-year-old daughter were out.

Tessmer is charged with one count of causing mental harm to a child and one count of mistreatment of animals, causing death in connection with the incident on Feb. 28, 2009. Both are felonies.

Hulgaard said Tessmer's son was traumatized by the incident.

It came to authorities' attention after the boy drew a picture at an after-school child care program and wrote on the picture, "My dad is a killer!"

Hulgaard showed that picture in court on Tuesday.

For months, the boy had nightmares of his dad kicking the dog and was unable to sleep alone, Hulgaard told the jury.

Fay told the jury there's no dispute that Tessmer kicked the dog.

But Fay suggested in his opening statements that the dog may have died after getting into rat poison and he disputed the number of times Tessmer is accused of kicking the dog.

He said a necropsy of the dog showed hemorrhages. While authorities say these are from the animal being kicked, Fay said such hemorrhages also are signs consistent with rat poisoning.

Authorities, however, did not test for poisoning, Fay said.

"We don't know what for sure this dog died of because the last little test wasn't done," Fay told the jury.

Fay told the jury that Tessmer, who owns Tessmer Auto Sales, was under considerable stress when the incident occurred. He was in the midst of a divorce and February 2009 was not a good time to be in auto sales because of the economic recession.

Tessmer to testify

Tessmer plans to testify in the case, Fay told the jury.

"He's going to get up there and he's going to admit, 'Yes, I booted the dog. But I had nothing against that dog. I didn't intend to be cruel to that dog. I made a horrible mistake,' " Fay said.

"This is not a case where somebody is saying, 'I'm not responsible.' This is a case about somebody saying, 'I did something wrong, but not what you charged me,' " Fay said.

Tessmer's children both testified in court on Tuesday and jurors viewed video recordings of separate interviews that a social worker conducted with them shortly after the incident. The girl took the stand only briefly so the prosecution could lay the foundation to show her recorded interview.

In the interviews, the children describe how their father kicked the dog and shoved a paper towel he used to wipe up urine in the dog's face. They said their father later told them Zorro died of a heart attack.

The boy also said during the interview he earlier had overhead his father tell his mother over the phone that the dog died because it was sick. But he told the interviewer that the dog died because its lungs were punctured by his father's kicks.

Tessmer's trial continues Wednesday.

If convicted, he faces up to 7 1/2 years in prison on the mental harm charge and 1 1/2 years in prison on the animal mistreatment, causing death charge.

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Is  7 1/2 years for mental harm and 1 1/2 years for animal mistreatment enough?  I don't think so. I feel so bad for the kids and for that poor, defenseless dog!   Those kids will never forget the scene.
His attorney says that his client did not intend to kill the dog or intentionally cause emotional harm to his kids?!  Wow, what would it take to be intentional?...The fact that he lied to his ex-wife about how the dog died is evidence that he knew what he did was horrible.  He should never be allowed to own an animal again for the rest of his life!!...Actually, I think he should be violently kicked in front of an audience but, that's just me :). 
Actually, Tracy, it's not just you... I agree completely!
This is appalling.  How can this not be construed as a tragedy - terminally for the dog and traumatizing for the children. How can this man not be guilty of heinous acts?  Hopefully he will be found guilty and at the very least get the longest possible sentence (and while he is there he gets kicked at least 10 times with adult male force).  Hopefully his children will NEVER see him again.
this is sickening

He's been found guilty; sentencing isn't until May 9th, so we won't know what his punishment is until then. But whatever it is, it won't be enough.

I am so glad that he was found guilty that the doods and I are doing a happy dance~
Now that I've stopping crying about the doodle, and prayed for the emotional well-being of those kids, I have a question.  If Zorro hadn't been there, and one of the kids had done something to make the father angry, would they have received the same treatment?  I'm looking forward to the sentencing, and hope that the judge is a dog parent.

So this whole story is horrifying-and way too close to home. No matter what a dog OR child does, you don't beat them!

So tomorrow is May 9th-we'll see what hapens, whatever does won't make it right I feel for those children and cannot imagine seeing that happen to ANY animal.

I so hope he gets the maximum sentence allowed.  I also hope he is required to attend and pay for therapy for his children and himself.

Well, not exactly what we would have liked.




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