Michael Tortorici’s defense lawyer says that he was justified in attacking his 86-pound German shepherd, even if he did end up killing the dog.
Tortorici, who pleaded not guilty Friday to a felony charge of animal abuse, suffered “pretty severe injuries” to his arm because of the dog, Frank LoTempio III said.
“They’re incredibly deep wounds,” LoTempio said.
“Once the facts come out, it will be a completely different case,” he added.
The slightly built Tortorici, whose left arm was bandaged from the wrist to almost the elbow, stood silently during his court hearing.
But police saw things differently when they were at Tortorici’s house earlier in November.
“The officers on the scene … asked to see the wound and observed a small puncture wound to his wrist,” said Cheektowaga Capt. Jim Speyer, the department spokesman.
Tortorici, 58, of Sloan, was arrested Nov. 3 after officers responded to a report that a man had shot a dog in a home on Broadway and found an 8-year-old German shepherd, named Max, dead on the basement floor.
Tortorici reportedly told officers that he shot the dog because it attacked him and he didn’t want anyone else to be attacked.
But according to police, Tortorici had been drinking and became aggressive – punching, kicking and pulling the dog by the head – after finding it asleep in a bedroom. The dog bit him the wrist and then released him, police reported.
An investigation by police and the SPCA Serving Erie County determined the dog had been beaten with a wooden bar stool and lumber, then shot in the stomach with a 12-gauge shotgun. A 12-year-old boy, reportedly a grandson of Tortorici, was present at the time; Tortorici also faces charges of endangering the welfare of a child and discharging a firearm.
A necropsy revealed the dog suffered multiple fractures to its head and suffered blood loss from the gunshot wound before it eventually died, leading police to upgrade the original animal cruelty charge from a misdemeanor to a felony.
“We felt that the felony charge was more appropriate … based on the entirety of the whole investigation,” Speyer said,
LoTempio said the change in charge was anticipated.
“We’re not surprised this charge was levied,” because the dog died, LoTempio said after Tortorici was arraigned Friday morning. “It doesn’t change our defense.”
LoTempio characterized Tortorici as “a lifelong dog owner; a lifelong animal owner.” He’s had five or six German shepherds, each of which eventually died of natural causes, his attorney said.
If convicted of the felony, Tortorici faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison. He also could find himself on an animal abuse registry that has been proposed in the Erie County Legislature.
“It’s awful for him. It’s horrible,” said LoTempio, who added that Tortorici “can’t believe his reputation is being maligned like this.”
Tortorici remained free on $25,000 bail, but the judge granted a request by Assistant Erie County District Attorney Joseph Turner’s for an order barring Tortorici from possessing or owning any animals while the case is pending. The defense didn’t object to the request.
The case has resulted in public outcry, and two women were at the courthouse Friday morning to make their feelings known.
A sign stating “Stiff penalties for animal abuse … R.I.P. Max … Fly free little angel,” was held by Ellie Stephens of Elma and Renee Wojciechowski of Depew as Tortorici left the building.
“I think there should be stiffer penalties for animal abuse. I don’t think he’s going to get much time,” said Stephens. “I feel he’s a threat to society.”
Added Wojciechowski: “If you could do that to a dog, what are you going to do to a human?”
Tortorici is scheduled to return to Cheektowaga Town Court next month for further proceedings.