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Man convicted of animal cruelty given six months in jail, five years probation, no animal contact order

By Howard B. Owens

Robert L. Williams, found guilty in a jury trial of animal cruelty, will spend six months in jail followed by five years on probation, and during that time, he is to have no contact whatsoever with any animal, Judge Melissa Lightcap Cianfrini ruled on Friday.

"You, sir, are in need of significant supervision," Cianfrini said. "I don't trust you around animals." 

She told him, "no dog sitting" and that he wasn't even to go over to a neighbor's house "to pet the dogs."

The evidence presented at trial, recounted during Friday's hearing, is that Williams was at another person's house, and there were two dogs in crates there, and Williams poured bleach into the eyes of the dogs. 

Both dogs required medical treatment, and both dogs fully recovered, though Assistant District Attorney Robert Zickl noted, "there's no vision test for a dog."

Williams was convicted under New York's Ags and Market Law, and while the counts are felonies, the maximum sentence on each count is two years.  The terms could have been served consecutively.

Cianfrini said she struggled with the decision because what Williams did was reprehensible.  However, in another pending case, where dogs were left in cages to potentially die -- and one of them had to be euthanized -- the defendants accepted plea offers that could mean they avoid any jail time.

The sentence Cianfrini handed down, she said, "significantly punishes you and ensures society that you're not going to be around animals and will not own animals and not have contact with animals for a long time."

The dogs belonged to the girlfriend of a person Williams was living with at the time of the incident.  Williams paid $158 in restitution for veterinary bills.

Cianfrini also ordered Williams to undergo a mental health evaluation and abide by any recommendations for treatment.

Any deviation by Williams from the term of his probation, Cianfrini said, would carry harsh consequences.

Zickl argued for the maximum jail term -- and even though animal cruelty is a felony and carries a maximum of more than a year, the sentence cannot be served in prison -- because of the depraved nature of the crime. 

"His conduct was absolutely pointless and cruel," Zickl said.

Zickl said there is an incident report filed by Le Roy PD prior to this incident that also contained an allegation that Williams poured bleach into a dog's eyes.  In that case, the owner declined prosecution once the dog quickly recovered.

The ADA said Williams should be removed from the community for as long as possible.

Fred Rarick, representing Williams, called the Le Roy report "hearsay" and encouraged Cianfrini not to consider it in her decision.

He provided Cianfrini with about a dozen letters from community members in support of Williams that described Williams as a good person who treated animals well (which led to Zickl, when he next got an opportunity to speak, to say that if the Le Roy report was hearsay, so were the letters).

Rarick said his client, "accepts the verdict of the jury though he respectfully disagrees with the verdict," and while not discounting the harm done to the dogs, they did recover. 

His client, he said, sought a probationary sentence because he loves his daughter dearly and wants to be able to care for her.

"Given the opportunity, he has shown he has the ability to comply with any court orders," Rarick said. "The record shows he will do so and that he is an asset to other people."

When Williams addressed the court, he "respectfully" requested to be placed on probation, noting that he had no other criminal history, no domestic violence charges, that he's abided by the terms of court orders during his divorce proceedings, and that he wants to be able to continue to work so he can take care of his daughter.

At the end of the hearing, Williams was handcuffed and taken to the Genesee County Jail to begin his six-month term.

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