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Brooksville woman found guilty in animal cruelty case involving Dexter the kitten

BROOKSVILLE — Dexter the kitten's ashes sit on Tiffany Sroka's bookshelf in an urn with paw prints that are black and white, just like he was.

The 27-year-old Spring Hill veterinary technician took care of Dexter after he was brutally beaten in a park east of Brooksville last year. Sroka helped nurse the tiny kitten along to a remarkable recovery, but the seizures Dexter suffered after his head trauma became so severe that Sroka decided to put him down two months after the attack.

On Thursday, Sroka watched a Hernando County jury find 25-year-old Wilana Joenel Frazier guilty of two counts of animal cruelty and one of two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. After about two hours of deliberation, six jurors decided the evidence proved that Frazier hit Dexter with a baseball bat at a park in June 2011, then allowed or encouraged her 8-year-son to torture a second black kitten found dead that day at the bottom of a trash can among empty beer and soda cans.

"Everybody's hopes and prayers have come true," a tearful Sroka said a few minutes after the court clerk read the verdict.

Within days after Frazier's arrest, Dexter became an international symbol of animal abuse. More than 54,700 people from as far away as Russia and South Africa had signed a petition supporting Frazier's prosecution.

Frazier, a thin woman who teetered on thick wedge heels, remained stoic during the trial. When the clerk read the verdict and Judge Daniel B. Merritt ordered her into custody, she sobbed and said something about taking care of her children.

The case against her hinged on the eyewitness accounts of two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 10 to 11, who testified Thursday morning.

Two of the young witnesses said they saw Frazier hit a black and white kitten with a metal baseball bat or pipe. Another boy said he saw a woman fitting Frazier's description hitting kittens with a bat.

The Tampa Bay Times is not identifying the witnesses because of their ages.

Frazier was at the park with two sons that day, ages 8 and 5. After Frazier hit the black and white kitten with a bat, the girl testified, the older boy grabbed the black kitten.

"He put it on the swing and pushed it back and forth to make it fly off the swing," the girl said. "He got it by the throat and threw it into a tree, then put it on the ground and hit it with a stick."

One of the young witnesses said he saw Frazier hit the black and white kitten at least twice with a metal pipe.

"The first time it stayed on the ground, and it got back up and she hit it again," the boy said. "I heard a boom. It was really hard."

The boy said he saw Frazier's 8-year-old son hit the black kitten with a bat, then start to stab it with "mulch" as Frazier goaded him to keep going.

"She was like encouraging him, telling him to hit it and do bad stuff to it," the boy said.

Neither Frazier's 8-year-old nor her other son, who was 5 at the time, faced charges.

Frazier was at the park keeping score for a basketball tournament that day. She was about six months pregnant.

She testified Thursday that she only saw the cats once, when they ran onto the basketball court during a game. She said she never touched a bat or a metal pipe. And she said she was forced by Hernando County Animal Services to give up her dog after she was charged.

"I'm an animal lover," Frazier said. "I don't kill animals. I would never do that."

During closing arguments, defense attorney Todd Hopson noted the conflicts in the children's testimony. Frazier's fingerprints were not found on the bat, he said, and no pipe was found.

"Where's the real evidence?" he said. "My client and I both think it's a terrible thing when animals are abused, but she didn't do it."

Willie Bates, Frazier's fiance, called the verdict an injustice.

"This is the worst day of my life," Bates said. "I just watched a woman get convicted for a crime she had nothing to do with."

Frazier turned down a plea offer that would have required her to serve one year in jail and five years of probation. She faces a maximum of 11 years in prison, but that sentence is unlikely given her lack of prior convictions.

Hopson said he expects Frazier will be sentenced to six months to a year in the county jail. Sentencing is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Sroka, the vet tech, is also a mother. She said she feels for Frazier's children, but justice calls for one to two years behind bars.

"There has got to be some time," Sroka said, "to show it was wrong."

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@tampabay.com.

Brooksville woman found guilty in animal cruelty case involving Dexter the kitten 07/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 10:34pm]
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