St. Louis trial to resume in dragged-dog case

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Prosecutors have rested their case in the trial of an Illinois woman accused of causing a pit bull puppy to be dragged behind her ex-husband’s pickup truck down a St. Louis freeway.

Benetta Johnson is charged with misdemeanor animal abuse in the November incident. Her bench trial began Tuesday and was recessed until Thursday.

During the trial, witness Dee Ann Ducote testified that she was driving in fog on Interstate 55 when she thought she saw a coat being dragged behind a pickup truck up ahead. But when she pulled alongside the truck she quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

“It was a dog,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Ducote as recalling during the trial of Johnson, 41, of East St. Louis. “It was looking at me.”

Authorities believe Johnson tried to return the 6-month-old dog — later dubbed Trooper by his Humane Society rescuers — to her ex-husband and, according to her December statement to police, told her 13-year-old son to put the dog in the bed of her former spouse’s truck. The teen instead tied the puppy to the truck’s trailer hitch, and Johnson’s ex-husband didn’t see the dog and began driving down the interstate the next day.

The dog survived the miles-long ordeal that ended when Ducote frantically blew her horn, alerting the driver that something was wrong. Trooper sustained dragging-related scrapes and wounds that exposed bone, underwent a series of operations and survived.

Johnson is expected to testify when proceedings resume Thursday. She told police in a videotaped statement played in court Tuesday that she was tearful and “hysterical” after learning the dog had been dragged behind the truck and his 16-foot flatbed trailer.

“I love animals,” she told the officer, noting that she became frustrated when her former spouse didn’t respond to her requests for him to take the dog back.

In his opening statement Tuesday, Johnson’s attorney Thomas Gilliam said the evidence would show that she “did not intend or purposefully cause” Trooper’s injuries.

The charge is punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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