Mat-Su couple gets 3 years for dog's death in stolen van
More than two dozen people packed a Palmer courtroom on Wednesday, many wearing shirts and buttons that read ‘Justice for Flash.’
Flash was Mark Thompson’s 12-year-old golden retriever, stolen along with Thompson’s van from his job site in July 2016.
Gina Jones and Jason McDonnell admitted they knew the dog was in the van after they stole it, then abandoned it. Troopers found the vehicle three days later with Flash dead inside. No necropsy was done, but investigators believed the Flash died of heat stroke.
A jury convicted Jones and McDonnell of felony and misdemeanor animal cruelty last fall. McDonnell pleaded guilty to vehicle theft and second-degree theft; the jury convicted Jones of those same crimes.
At their sentencing the charges merged into one count each of felony animal cruelty and vehicle theft, which carry a presumptive sentencing range of one to three years.
State prosecutors asked Judge Gregory Heath to sentence Jones and McDonnell to six years each: three years for each offense.
“[Flash] suffered for a long time,” said assistant district attorney Melissa Wininger-Howard. “You can only imagine what Flash was put through in the van first, trying to seek water, trying to get air, trying to get out of the van."
Before making a decision, Heath listened to testimony from the community, a move defense attorneys had argued against. Heath said community condemnation played a role in sentencing, and allowed Thompson to pick three people to give statements.
“Both turned a cold-hearted, blind eye to the life of a pet, a family member and spent days in a stolen vehicle, furthering their only interest in life, which was drugs,” said Thompson’s friend, Amanda Taylor, as she pleaded with the judge to give the maximum sentence.
Thompson sat quietly in the back row during the proceeding. When it was his turn to address the judge he has a short statement also asking for the maximum.
“They broke my heart," Thompson said. "My dog was with me ever since he was a puppy.”
Jones’ defense attorney, Hannah Thorssin-Bahri called a six-year sentence “draconian.”
“Six years is more than someone would get for killing someone on the road, blowing [a blood-alcohol content of] .2,” Thorissin-Bahri told the judge.
Heath handed down the same sentence to Jones and McDonnell. For the animal-cruelty conviction they were sentenced to three years with one suspended, meaning two years of active jail time. For the vehicle theft they were also sentenced to three years with one suspended, but with one of their active years to be served concurrently with the sentence for animal cruelty.
That’s a sentence of three active years in jail, but Wininger-Howard said they will get some credit for time they’ve already served.
Heath also sentenced the couple to five years of probation.
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