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2/12/2014 2:00:00 PM
Possible Plea Deal in Waldoboro Animal Cruelty Case

Aaron Armstrong
Aaron Armstrong
By Dominik Lobkowicz

A possible plea deal involving a Jefferson man accused of shooting a dog with as many as 100 BBs or pellets in Waldoboro last year could exchange a guilty plea for time served, two years probation, and a lifetime ban on owning domestic animals, among other conditions.

Aaron Armstrong, 34, was arrested June 13, 2013 by the Waldoboro Police Department after x-rays revealed the projectiles under the dog's skin.

The dog, now called Lady by the Walpole family that adopted her, had been taken to Lincoln County Animal Shelter after Waldoboro Animal Control Officer Laurice Ducharme found her running loose.

In an interview with Waldoboro Police Department, Armstrong allegedly admitted to then-Detective Jason Benefield that he both owned and shot the dog.

Armstrong allegedly said "he shot the black Labrador behind his house or wherever the dog happened to be while he was extremely intoxicated," according an affidavit written by Benefield. "He said the dog was not responding to training and when he drank he became angry with the dog."

Armstrong was indicted by grand jury on Sept. 11 for aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class C felony, and violation of condition of release, a Class E felony.

A June 11, 2013 x-ray shows the highest concentration of pellets in Lady's face and head. (Photo courtesy Boothbay Animal Hospital)
A June 11, 2013 x-ray shows the highest concentration of pellets in Lady's face and head. (Photo courtesy Boothbay Animal Hospital)
According to the indictment, the grand jury charges "Armstrong, in a manner manifesting a depraved indifference to animal life or suffering, did intentionally, knowingly or recklessly cause extreme physical pain to, kill or physically torture an animal."

Armstrong entered a plea of not guilty, according to court staff.

Conditions of the possible plea deal have not been finalized and would need to be approved by a judge, but Armstrong's attorney, David Paris, and Assistant District Attorney Andrew Wright indicated similar conditions were being considered: time served (Armstrong was in jail for 142 days before he was released on bail), two years probation, substance abuse conditions, and a lifetime ban on owning domestic animals.

Wright said Armstrong would be prohibited from possessing weapons such as BB guns or archery equipment during his probation, and the felony conviction would include a lifetime ban on possessing firearms.

"What he did was totally deplorable, and we're looking for some sort of punishment that reflects how deplorable that is," Wright said. "Of course, there will always be people who say anything short of death is not enough for this kind of case, but we have to work within the confines of the legal system."

Despite Armstrong's alleged admission of shooting the dog, Wright estimates 95 to 99 percent of all cases end in a plea, and said a plea would be Armstrong's way to take responsibility for his actions. The conditions of the plea deal are being measured against similar cases in Maine, he said.

"I guess the state doesn't feel that we're giving up anything by having him plea," Wright said. "140 days in jail is a lengthy period of time for one of these offenses."

Waldoboro Police Chief Bill Labombarde seemed to agree with Wright's assessment.

Going back a few years, Labombarde said, "We had a guy who we were able to link back to animal abuse where seven or eight horses had died and they were starved to death. I don't think he spent any time in jail at all, and those were felonies."

Armstrong "got 140 days, that's a lot more than some guys get for felonies. He got something," Labombarde said. "Would I like to see a little more? Yes; on the other hand, I know the way the system is."

Paris was satisfied with the conditions of the possible plea deal, since Armstrong had no history of animal cruelty. "It's a favorable resolution," he said.

Paris said Armstrong plans to plead guilty to the charges in court on Tuesday, Feb. 18, but Wright said he is unavailable that day and may need to reschedule.

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