The case against one of two people accused of setting a puppy now known as Phoenix on fire last fall appears headed for trial later this month, following a brief exchange in State Supreme Court on Monday over the defendant’s supposed comments to his mother.
Both Adell Ziegler, 19, and his attorney, E. Earl Key, denied that Ziegler admitted to his role in dousing the Jack Russell terrier puppy with lighter fluid and setting him on fire in October. Ziegler’s co-defendant already has pleaded guilty in the case.
During the seven-minute hearing before State Supreme Court Justice Russell P. Buscaglia, prosecutor Kristin A. St. Mary, from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, said she had received several phone calls from Ziegler’s mother.
“She indicated to me that the defendant is in fact remorseful, is in fact sorry about his role in the crime,” St. Mary told Buscaglia.
The prosecutor added that, according to the mother, Ziegler did not want to admit to having lit the match.
“However, he is willing to admit his participation in the act which caused the dog to be burned,” St. Mary added.
Buscaglia then asked Ziegler in open court whether that account was accurate. “That is not true at all, your honor,” Ziegler replied.
Key, his attorney, quickly added that Ziegler has maintained that position all along, that he did not commit this crime.
“What the mother is telling the District Attorney’s Office is untrue,” Key told the court. “That is his position.”
The two sides are scheduled to meet in court again at 2 p.m. Thursday to discuss several outstanding legal issues. The felony animal-cruelty trial is set to begin at 9:30 a.m. April 25.
Diondre L. Brown, 17, the alleged partner in the puppy-burning, has admitted to acting as a lookout and pleaded guilty to a felony animal-cruelty charge.
The Buffalo News previously reported that Buscaglia had explored a possible plea agreement with Ziegler’s lawyer and prosecutors, but the judge has indicated he would not commit to any sentence less than two years in prison on the felony animal-cruelty charge. Ziegler currently is behind bars serving time for a parole violation.
Meanwhile, the puppy, now about 10 months old, has healed nicely at the Buffalo Small Animal Hospital, despite some complications following a skin graft on his leg.
“He is doing very well,” said Judi Bunge, a licensed veterinary technician. “He’s walking great. All the lesions on his body have healed. We’re very pleased with his progress.”
Hospital officials hope to put Phoenix up for adoption once he heals sufficiently.