TAMPA — Prosecutors told a jury Thursday that Thomas Huggins killed a dog with his bare hands.
Huggins' attorneys didn't deny that, but claimed it hadn't been proven to be a cruel death. Testifying in his defense, Huggins said that he didn't want the dog to suffer, it had just grown too large and aggressive.
It took jurors about an hour Thursday to find Huggins guilty of animal cruelty.
Huggins, 26, was arrested in June after his mother discovered the remains of her young pit bull Bandit. Authorities say Huggins told them he strangled the dog, then used a steak knife to skin and eviscerate it.
Tampa police said they discovered the dog's head and innards in a trash can at Huggins' mother's home, and that Huggins had quartered the dog's remains, stored some of them in the freezer and cooked the ribs in a pot on the stove, eating some of the meat.
The one-day trial focused on the strangulation and whether it was a cruel death.
Bill Zingalie, who works for Hillsborough County Animal Services, testified that he didn't see signs of blunt trauma or other injury in the remains. But he said, "Strangulation as a form of euthanasia is not considered an acceptable form of euthanasia in a dog."
Huggins sat staring down at his hands. He later told jurors that he held the dog in a cloth and twice tried to strangle it with a plastic garbage bag.
"I didn't want her to suffer," Huggins said. "I put it down because it was getting aggressive."
In a call from jail played to the jury, Huggins told his father that he didn't know what he did was illegal, and that his mother had blown it out of proportion.
Margie Huggins, Thomas Huggins' mother, said she and her son cared for Bandit together.
"It was Thomas' dog, but I helped Thomas take care of the dog," she said. "It was, like, our dog."
After Bandit's death, she said, she saw the dog's remains in the trash at her house.
"It was a dog's head, and the body parts, skin, she said. "It looked like my dog. Our dog."
Huggins' relatives told investigators he might suffer from mental illness, according to police records.
Huggins, who could spend up to five years in prison, is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 19. After the verdict was read Thursday, he asked Judge Samantha Ward if he could receive his sentence right away.
"I don't think you'd like my sentence if I sentenced you right now," Ward said.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3337. Follow him on Twitter @petejamison.