A little over two weeks ago, a cold-hearted, cruel crime occurred when two Buffalo teenagers allegedly attempted to burn alive a Jack Russell terrier, yanking the creature three feet into the air, dousing it with lighter fluid and putting a flame to the puppy.
Seven years ago, another vicious crime occurred, when a 10-year-old boy watched as gunmen killed his mother, uncle and two family friends.
Wednesday, outside a Buffalo courtroom, the grandmother of one of the teens accused of setting the puppy on fire linked the two horrible crimes.
Her grandson, Diondre Brown, 17, has suffered from mental illness ever since he watched his mother executed in her Koons Avenue home in 2005, Robin Lynette Brown said.
Diondre Brown struggles with post traumatic stress and is in need of psychological care, she said. He has denied harming the dog, she said, and blames the other teen, 19-year-old Adell Zeigler.
Is there a connection between the two heinous crimes, seven years apart? Police think not.
“Does witnessing homicides give him a pass to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life?” a police official asked.
Sister Noreen McCarrick, a licensed social worker and former director of a Niagara Falls child counseling center, said that though she could not comment specifically on this case, the assertion that witnessing his mother’s homicide could spur other violent behavior deserves to be explored.
“Also to be explored is whether the young man was assessed and treated in the intervening years. If he was not treated, it would increase the probability that the two situations could be connected,” said McCarrick, an animal lover who has two dogs and a cat.
And Dr. Charles P. Ewing, a forensic psychologist and University at Buffalo Law School professor, said that it is not easy to link one violent act with another.
“It is very difficult to link witnessing violence to the later commission of violence,” he said.
“We do know that people who are exposed to that kind of violence have a greater likelihood of becoming violent. Looking back, you often see this and it seems to be predictive, but it is not predictive. It simply raises the likelihood.”
Both teenagers, authorities say, have been involved in robberies prior to the assault on the dog, which occurred Oct. 29 in a yard on Herman Street. Someone called 911 and city firefighters rescued the animal.
During Brown and Zeigler’s arraignment on felony animal cruelty charges, Assistant District Attorney Matthew Albert said Diondre Brown has a reputation as a violent individual and Zeigler had recently violated his parole. Zeigler is also Brown’s uncle.
Robin Brown insisted her grandson is not violent.
Diondre testified at the trial of the two men convicted of murdering his mother, Tonisha Brown, 26, and his uncle, Robert “Little Man” Brown, 40, the night of April 23, 2005, she said. The killers were sent to prison for life without parole.
After the two convictions, then-Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark called the Koons Avenue executions “a horrendous murder case, the likes of which this community has never seen.”
“In this case, justice rested on the shoulders of an 11-year-old boy who had the courage to come forward and say what happened and the shoulders of a jury that displayed the discretion to weigh the credibility of his testimony,” Clark said at that time.
But all of that, the grandmother said, scarred the grandson she is now raising.
“My grandson has post traumatic stress. He loves animals. He was upset when I took his dog away from him a year ago. We moved and couldn’t have pets. His name for his dog was D.O.G. and they played together all the time,” Robin Brown said.
“The only thing I know is that where Adell [Ziegler] is, there is trouble. My grandson met him at a home for troubled youth back in 2006, and every time Adell has come around, something has come up missing. The first time it was a pair of jeans, then a PlayStation and now he is trying to take away Diondre’s freedom,” Brown said. “Adell’s his uncle, but I tried to keep Diondre away from that side of the family.”
As she spoke outside City Judge Debra Givens’ courtroom, Mayor Byron W. Brown, Police Commissioner Daniel Derenda and veterinarian Rebecca Wagner gathered several blocks away at Buffalo Small Animal Hospital on South Elmwood Avenue to report on the progress of the 16-week-old terrier, who is scarred with burns over 50 percent of its body.
“It doesn’t make sense. This is a despicable, disgusting act. If someone is capable of doing this to a poor, defenseless animal, God only knows what else they are capable of doing,” Derenda said. “They picked the dog up by its collar, three feet off the ground, and doused it with lighter fluid and set it on fire.”
Wagner, a senior veterinarian at the hospital, said the puppy, which has been named Phoenix, has come through one surgery successfully but will need more.
“We had to amputate 60 percent of both ears and do skin grafts on his left armpit and lower neck. We’re also trying to save his left hind leg,” Wagner said. “I think he will do well, but I anticipate several more surgeries and it will all depend on his skin healing right and infections.”
Wearing a small shirt, Phoenix appeared friendly, though shy, when a reporter looked in on him Wednesday afternoon.
“Considering all that he has been through, you’d think he’d be afraid of people, but he’s not at all,” Wagner said.
In noting that hundreds of people have called and written to donate money for the dog’s medical treatment and to offer to adopt Phoenix, Brown said it will be weeks before adoption can be considered, but that people wanting to open their homes should consider the many other animals available for adoption at the Buffalo City Animal Shelter on North Oak Street.
Outside the courtroom, Ziegler’s mother came to his defense.
Arkeyla Copeland said she spoke with him and he denies harming the dog. She also took offense to Robin Brown’s attempting to place all of the blame on Zeigler.
“They were together and her [Brown’s] grandson had a role in this. Adell told me he did absolutely nothing,” Copeland said.
In court, Zeigler told Givens he plans to hire his own attorney.
Charles R. Katz, Diondre Brown’s public defender, would not comment specifically on whether his client could have been psychologically affected by the 2005 slayings.
“Speaking generically, something as traumatic as that could play into both how the case is handled and in terms of any kind of sentence, if it is applicable,” Katz said, adding that he will meet with Diondre.
Albert, the prosecutor, had sought bail of $50,000 for both teenagers, telling the judge that their crime was “heinous and debased.” Givens set bail at $20,000 for Brown and denied bail for Zeigler.
Both are scheduled to return to court 2 p.m. Monday.
Anyone wishing to contribute to Phoenix’s medical expenses, Wagner said, can do so by sending checks to the Friends of the City of Buffalo Animal Shelter. The address of the shelter is 380 N. Oak St., Buffalo, N.Y., 14203.