GONZALES — Acknowledging the attention Jamari Jackson's animal cruelty case had received in recent months and the competing voices arguing for the strongest and most lenient sentences possible, a state district judge on Monday gave the Ascension Parish man five years in prison for beating his dog to death with a baseball bat.
Jackson, 41270 Merritt Evans Road, Prairieville, had faced up to 10 years in prison.
In a statement before his ruling, Judge Jason Verdigets of the 23rd Judicial District warned the courtroom that he would hold people in contempt for outbursts and that now was not the time for activism and protest.
"This is the courthouse steps, not the capital steps," he said.
Verdigets said he had heard arguments from activist groups and others both for the minimum and maximum sentence but said it is his job under the state's judicial canons not to fear criticism over his decisions.
He said justice may change based on the case, but "one thing it is not, in my belief, is revenge."
Verdigets said he believed this was a case of criminal negligence and that intent was not shown at trial, saying that even the jury wrestled with that question.
Ascension Parish sheriff's deputies found the dying dog whimpering and struggling to breathe June 2014 at Jackson's home after a witness had reported seeing Jackson beating the dog with a bat. A bat matching the witness's description was found in Jackson's house, prosecutors said.
Jackson told deputies the dog got caught in a barbed wire fence, but the medical experts' testimony at trial contradicted the defense contention that injuries from the fence may have had role in the dog's death.
Tyler Cavalier, spokesman for prosecutors in the 23rd Judicial District, said Monday the experts found the dog suffered traumatic injuries to its brain, and it was those injuries, not any from a barbed wire fence, that caused the death of the animal.
At trial, Jackson testified he used the bat to knock the dog unconscious so it could be relaxed after getting stuck in the barbed wire fence, Cavalier said.
After Verdigets' ruling, members of the Northside Humane Society of Baton Rouge, Companion Animal Rescue of Ascension and others left the courtroom and embraced in a group hug. CARA is the nonprofit that runs Ascension Parish government's animal shelter under contract.
"Justice," one person could be heard saying during the embrace.
"We are pleased with the decision," said Kristy Barbier, 43, of Denham Springs, who said she is affiliated with the Northside Human Society in Baton Rouge.
She said she and others pressed for the stiffest possible sentence, 10 years, because in prior cases, many defendants have gotten suspended sentences or ones rolled into sentences for other convictions.
Jarrett Ambeau, Jackson's defense attorney, had asked Verdigets for a hearing before sentencing to present mitigating testimony, but Verdigets would not allow it, saying in this instance Jackson did not have an absolute right to such a hearing.
Ambeau did not return a call seeking comment Monday afternoon.
Prosecutors dropped the same charge against Jackson's original co-defendant, Sammi Jo Corley, 28, of Prairieville, on July 12.