Vehicle used as deadly weapon in animal cruelty case; jury sentences defendant to five-year prison term

Fifteen months after being dragged behind an SUV and left on the roadside bloody and injured, the donkey named Susie Q has fully recovered. Her abuser, on the other hand, was just sentenced by a Montgomery County jury to five years in prison—one of the longest prison sentences ever given to a defendant in an animal cruelty case in Texas.

Prosecutor Rob Freyer argued that defendant Marc Richard Saunders, 30, of the southeastern Texas town of Splendora, used his vehicle as a deadly weapon against Susie Q. On Jan. 15, the jury agreed—elevating the crime to a third-degree felony and increasing the maximum possible prison time from two years to up to 10 years.

“In this case, since the deadly weapon definition does not limit death or injury to a person, there is no restriction by which it could not be used to enhance any criminal offense,” said Donald Feare, a civil litigator in Arlington and council member of the State Bar of Texas Animal Law Section. “By opening up a much greater range of punishment, that deterrence becomes even greater and sends a message that the people of the State of Texas are no longer looking at such [animal] cruelty as something less than an important crime to be stopped.”

Feare noted that he believes this is the first time a vehicle has been used as a deadly weapon in an animal cruelty case in Texas. Though uncommon in Texas, other objects have been ruled as deadly weapons in animal cruelty cases. Knives and box cutters were ruled as deadly weapons in the killing of several kittens and, in a separate case, a hammer was ruled as a deadly weapon against a cat. In August 2013, a judge found that fire was used as a deadly weapon against a dog; one of the abusers received five years in prison—possibly the only animal cruelty case other than the Saunders case to receive such a long sentence.

“This [deadly weapon] enhancement is a direct example of how seriously such cruelty will be treated,” said Feare. “It does not add to the elements of the crime, only the punishment. It has been so with assaults on humans and is now being applied to cruelty as well.”  

Saunders has not indicated if he will appeal. Law enforcement officials revealed to local media outlets that he tested positive for methamphetamines the day after the crime. 

This Month in the Texas Bar Journal

This month, the Texas Bar Journal looks at the different aspects of animal law and how it has evolved. In addition, you will find an update on the State Bar's Texas Lawyers for Texas Veterans program since its launch last year.