West Highland Terrier Takes Witness Stand in Animal Cruelty Case

An unusual sight drew extra spectators to a Maryland courtroom Friday -- seated on his owner's lap at the witness stand was a little dog named Ozzy.

Sharon Betts and her West Highland terrier testified at the sentencing hearing of Khanh Hoang Hong.

Once Betts' boyfriend, Hong tried to kill Ozzy and succeed in killing his mate, Pieper.

The incident took place in April 2013. The investigation showed Hong broke into Betts' home, grabbed the dogs, bound their mouths and legs with duct tape, closed them into trash bags and threw them into his car.

While driving along Copeland Road, Hong tossed out the bag containing Pieper. She was found four days later, dead. Investigators believe, somehow while still in the car, Ozzy chewed through his restraints and was found by a passerby limping along the side of Thoroughfare Road.

Hong later pleaded guilty to felony counts of burglary, animal larceny and animal cruelty. Friday, with Ozzy occasionally licking her face as she testified, Betts asked the judge to impose a stiff sentence.

"In Prince William County it's not OK for people to break into your house and kidnap and torture and murder your pets who are a part of your family," Betts said after the hearing.

She told Judge Craig Johnston Ozzy's leg was so badly damaged, the vet told her it was the worst injury he'd ever seen. Ozzy now has four rods in his rear leg and has lost his front teeth.

Betts said that the crime so traumatized her dog, he didn't want her out of his sight. She had him certified as a therapy dog so Ozzy could join her at work.

"Words can't express all the ways Ozzy and I have suffered in the past year," said Betts. "It has had a lasting impact on me and my ability to trust people. It's going to be difficult going forward to trust in a relationship."

Hong's attorney asked for leniency and pointed to his client's previous unblemished record, his college education and employment in information technology.

He described Hong's actions as "a terrible lapse of judgment," that came after one of the dogs bit him. But Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Sandy Sylvester angrily fired back.

"This case cries out for retribution," said Sylvester. "What makes him so dangerous is that nobody saw this coming."

Hong made a brief statement telling the judge, "I'd like to take the opportunity to publicly apologize to Miss Betts for my actions... I ask the court for mercy."

Judge Johnston made a statement of his own, sentencing Hong to 18 months in prison on the animal cruelty charge. He gave Hong a 5-year suspended term on the other charges. Hong, who is Betts' neighbor, was also ordered to avoid her and her home when he gets out of prison.

After the hearing, Betts said she was pleased that Hong was going to prison. She was also thinking about her dog that was killed, Pieper.

"We love Pieper," said Betts. "She will always be with us in our hearts. We miss her and she can never been replaced so we are thankful that Pieper got some justice today as well."

Prosecutor Sylvester said she'll continue to vigorously prosecute animal cruelty cases because she increasingly animal abuse and domestic violence are tied together. She said she's handled several cases in which men have threatened or harmed their girlfriend's pets to try to control them.

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