Animal lovers saddened and outraged by the hanging death of a dog near Summit Lake packed a Thurston County courtroom Tuesday during a hearing for the suspect in the case, James L. Evans.
Evans pleaded not guilty to one count of aggravated first-degree animal cruelty before Thurston County Superior Court Judge Erik Price. Evans was arrested April 9 in connection to the dog’s death and was released on $50,000 bail a few days later. His trial is scheduled for July 25.
About 75 people turned out for the Tuesday arraignment hearing, dressed in pink shirts printed with the dog’s name: Diamond.
Officer Erika Johnson, of Thurston County Animal Services, said she has never seen so many people attend an animal cruelty hearing. She said the manner of Diamond’s death has spurred an emotional response in the community.
According to court documents, the 3-year-old pit bull mix was discovered hanging from a tree March 21 on Department of Natural Resources property near Summit Lake. The dog’s toes were just barely touching the ground, and her front legs were clutching the tree trunk, according to documents.
A veterinary necropsy showed the dog died from asphyxiation, and that there was evidence of severe trauma to the dog’s anus and rectum.
“We all love animals, and dogs in particular become a part of the family,” Johnson said. “This dog meant someone to someone, so it’s even more disturbing.”
Johnson, who investigated Diamond’s death, said she’s grateful for the community’s support, and support of the Thurston County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Prosecutor Jim Powers.
“I feel that Thurston County has been very progressive in dealing with animal cruelty cases,” Johnson said. “They’re taking this seriously.”
Interest in the matter hasn’t been limited to Thurston County. Representatives from Pasado’s Safe Haven, a Monroe-based nonprofit aimed at ending animal cruelty, attended the hearing. The agency contributed reward money for the arrest of a suspect.
Executive Director Laura Henderson said that she believes justice for Diamond can be served under Washington’s animal cruelty laws.
“I hope that the system works, and that he gets the maximum sentence,” Henderson said. “We have strong animal cruelty laws in Washington.”
The main problem in cases like Diamond’s, she said, is that the crimes go unreported, or suspects are never identified.
“Even in this case, it took a lot of time for someone to come forward,” Henderson said. “If you see someone hurting an animal, it’s important to report it.”
According to court documents, Evans was arrested after a tip from a relative of Diamond’s owner.
Snoqualmie resident Dana Backiel drove nearly two hours Tuesday to attend the hearing. She considers herself an animal rights activist, and said she has worked on anti-dog meat campaigns in Asia.
She said her biggest worry about the case is that the suspect will eventually hurt a child.
“I believe that his behavior could be the sign of a serial killer,” Backiel said.
Evans has hired Olympia-based attorney Richard Woodrow to represent him. The Olympian has reached out to Woodrow for comment.