LARGO — The lawyer twisted a rubber band around his wrist. His skin turned red and swollen.
He thrust it toward the jury, now grimacing, in Courtroom 18.
"Look at this. And it's only been a couple minutes."
Two years ago an SPCA officer found Sox, a Yorkshire terrier-poodle mix, in the bathroom of Tieesha Cogdell's Clearwater home. The puppy was covered by fleas and feces. A rubber band bound his muzzle closed.
On Wednesday, Pinellas-Pasco Assistant State Attorneys Philip Piazza and Ellen Germuska told a jury that Cogdell, 33, was guilty of animal cruelty, a first-degree misdemeanor.
However, Cogdell's public defender, Vincent Massaro, argued that while she may have been an imperfect pet owner, she is not a criminal.
She didn't beat or starve the puppy, he said. No one really knows who put the rubber band around Sox's muzzle — it could have been the kids, he said.
And when Cogdell discovered it, she was too poor to take Sox to a vet.
"He might not have been ready for the Westminster Dog Show," Massaro argued, but that's not animal cruelty.
After deliberating for 20 minutes, the jurors returned a verdict of guilty. Judge Susan Bedinghaus sentenced Cogdell to 180 days in jail, 12 months of probation, $2,925 in court fees and $2,079 in restitution to the SPCA.
She showed no emotion, but clutched a red, white and blue chew toy.
On Dec. 9, 2011, a volunteer at the Smart Academy in Dunedin, where Cogdell's children attended elementary school, called SPCA officer Jill Purl with a tip.
"The kids had told him, 'Mommy's letting the dog die in the bathroom,' " Purl said.
Two days later, Purl visited Cogdell's house to investigate. She smelled something foul from the driveway — rotting flesh, she later learned. But Purl didn't immediately confiscate Sox. Instead, she gave Cogdell phone numbers for two emergency vets in Largo.
"I wanted to work with the owner before making another shelter puppy," Purl said. "And she swore she'd take him that afternoon."
Cogdell, according to the vets, never sought help.
The next day, Purl returned and Cogdell gave her Sox. Purl called Clearwater police, who arrested Cogdell on an animal cruelty charge.
She didn't testify during her trial, which started Tuesday.
Piazza showed the jury pictures of Sox before an emergency surgery, his muzzle slick with blood and puss.
"That is animal cruelty," he said.
Three veterinarians, a Clearwater police officer and Purl testified Tuesday.
Dr. Rizal Lopez, the SPCA veterinarian who treated Sox for two months, estimated that the rubber band had been around the puppy's muzzle for two weeks, cutting through muscles.
Dr. Amy Engle, one of the Largo vets who removed the deeply embedded elastic, said the odor overpowered her ICU.
After the jury delivered the guilty verdict Wednesday, Cogdell asked to speak.
"I don't think I did anything wrong," she said.
She started rambling: I can learn something from this. I'm not the same person. We loved that dog. We really loved that dog. I got that dog for my son when he earned straight A's. I got that dog after the other Sox died.
Bedinghaus stopped her.
"Are you telling me you had another dog named Sox and replaced that dog with this one?"
The judge ordered that she may never own another dog.
Sox, now about 2 years old, lives with his new family in Largo. In a recent photo Purl brought to the trial, he sports a blue bandana. His ashen brown hair, shiny and long, masks the scars on his muzzle.
Danielle Paquette can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4224.