What do you get when, hopped up on amphetamines, you savagely kill your family dog by slitting its throat, text a photo of the blood-drenched body to your estranged wife, then leave her a voicemail saying “your day is coming, girl”?
If you’re a well-off white trial lawyer in Jefferson County, Alabama, the answer—after a five-month, multi-agency investigation that involved animal forensics experts, an exhumation, and protracted four-year trial—is probation.
Back in 2012, 46-year-old James Stewart Robinson was involved in a bitter custody battle with his departing wife over Rufus, their American Staffordshire terrier. So heated, that Robinson, who claims to have been in the throes of an Adderall addiction, lost his cool and decided if he couldn’t have the family’s loyal dog, no one could.
“Rufus was a very loving dog and I am horrified that I crossed a line that never in a million years I thought I would cross,” Robinson reportedly said at trial as part of his apology. “I don’t know why I crossed that line. I love animals and I love people.”
When local police initially responded to the animal cruelty call, which Robinson made himself, he initially claimed his wife had killed the dog to prevent him from gaining custody during their ongoing divorce negotiations. After working with the ASPCA to examine the dog’s body and tracking electronic records, however, it became clear that he was likely the culprit and not the intended victim. Felony charges were filed, and a manhunt ensued.
“It’s really the unspeakable,” Chief Deputy Randy Christian of the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office told a local outlet. “To think that someone could cut the throat of the very pet that would probably protect you with their own life is something that just doesn’t fit in our society.”
The courts seem to think otherwise. Robinson, who has been out on $40,000 bail since turning himself in after a weeklong search back in 2012, has reached a plea agreement with special prosecutors to the charges of first-degree cruelty to a dog or cat and third-degree domestic violence.
While the animal cruelty charge is a class C felony, which has sentencing guidelines of 1-to-10 years in jail, the DA’s office has agreed to probation instead. The judge in the case has said he would go along with the plea deal so long as no more crimes are committed between now and the sentencing date in early August.
Robinson had already been a recovering addict when he got hooked on the ADHD medicine Adderall in 2009. Since murdering his dog, he sought treatment and spent time in a halfway house. Though currently suspended from practicing law, his license is on what is called “disability inactive status,” meaning that he can get it back once he deals with his personal issues.
The case drew the ire of animal rights activists, who took to petition site change.org to decry what they say is the judge’s attempts at forcing the DA to plea the case down to a misdemeanor and thus avoid trial.
Robinson acknowledged the outrage his actions have cause, saying he wanted people to know “how terribly contrite and sorry I am now.”