Puppy killing case is put off County police officer resigns in exchange for deferring case

'I think it's tragic'

His wife's mother, a prosecution witness, has left the area

July 02, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

An Anne Arundel County police officer charged with strangling his family's puppy because he was annoyed by its pre-dawn barking quit his job yesterday in exchange for prosecutors setting aside animal cruelty charges.

Robert J. Hanlon's resignation came as investigators were continuing their hunt for his 63-year-old mother-in-law, the sole accuser in the case. She vanished in mid-January when her testimony was needed.

A county Circuit judge issued a $100,000 body attachment, which is similar to an arrest warrant, for her, and the local branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offered a $500 reward for help finding her and getting her to testify.

As a defendant, Hanlon was not obligated to help find a witness against him, and his wife said she had no idea where her mother, who had lived with the couple for a decade, had gone.

Even the most reluctant witnesses rarely disappear, court veterans say. Instead, they often claim memory lapses on the witness stand.

The misdemeanor charge of mutilating an animal will be placed in legal limbo, or "stetted," when one of the more bizarre cases local prosecutors have handled comes to Circuit Court on Wednesday.

Hanlon, 32, is receiving counseling, but that will not be part of the agreement, prosecutors said.

Michael J. Belsky, Hanlon's attorney, declined to comment.

Said Kristin Riggin, spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office: "Our primary goal was that he not be allowed to retain police authority. And we can monitor him."

Three-year window

The "stet" action yesterday is one step removed from dropping the charge.

However, for up to a year, the charge could be reinstated, if prosecutors feel it is warranted. And, for two years after that, the charge could be reactivated with the approval of a judge.

Investigators were about to go to an undisclosed location yesterday to search for Delores Guy, who had shared the Severna Park home with her daughter, Teresa, and son-in-law, ++ when the deal with Hanlon was struck.

Hanlon, who joined the county Police Department in 1989, accepted the prosecutors' offer and resigned "for personal reasons."

He was placed on administrative leave shortly after the Oct. 25 death of the puppy, but his status had been changed to extended sick leave.

The Anne Arundel County SPCA was disappointed with the development yesterday.

"I think it's tragic," said Frank Branchini, executive director of the organization, who said violence against animals should be taken more seriously. "The strongest predictor of violence to people is a history of animal abuse."

Said Assistant State's Attorney Shelly A. Stickell, who asked to be assigned to the case: "I totally feel for [the SPCA], because I am such a dog lover. I totally agree with them from a nonlegal standpoint. But with all the facts and circumstances in this case, we felt this was the best resolution all around."

Wife wouldn't testify

Prosecutors would have had to try Hanlon without their key witness. They knew six months ago that Teresa Hanlon would not testify against her husband, although she had taken the dog's body out of a trash can to police to press charges.

Still, the case could continue past next week.

Prosecutors will weigh whether to file obstruction-of-justice or perjury charges against Teresa Hanlon.

She told Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Clayton R. Greene in May that her mother left because "she said she did not want to be a witness."

Hanlon's wife also said she did not know where Guy went but was not worried.

Pub Date: 7/02/98

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