By Marjorie Nesin
---- — The Gloucester man accused of slicing open his pet pit bull and removing the dog’s guts after it died from ingesting heroin formally pleaded not guilty on animal cruelty and heroin possession charges in his first superior court appearance Wednesday, but remained jailed overnight.
Gloucester police had arrested and charged John “Jack” Dugan with animal cruelty in early December after a woman discovered his dog’s gutted carcass near the Sadler Street extension. Police traced the dog back to her owner and Dugan told officers Xena had ingested a quantity of heroin he had left on his counter and then died.
Dugan never entered pleas in District Court, but prosecutors added three additional counts of animal cruelty and a charge of possessing heroin with the intent to distribute it at his indictment in the higher superior court. His court appointed attorney, John Morris, responded to those charges in court Wednesday.
“These charges are not as strong as the Commonwealth would lead you to believe,” Morris told the judge. “They found no drugs, there are no drugs.”
The prosecution revealed in court Wednesday that the results of a necropsy on the body of pit bull Xena confirmed that the dog was dead when Dugan sliced her open in the bathtub at his Prospect Street apartment. Dugan had told police he made the cuts to relieve bloating and dispose of the carcass, but a veterinarian working with police denied the plausibility of bloating.
Prosecutor Karen Hoopwood Wednesday described the electronic scale and “hundreds” of baggies found in Dugan’s apartment, and added that another dog was seized at the apartment. She quoted Dugan’s ex-girlfriend who had told police that Dugan would frequently hit both dogs for poor behavior, and had watched Xena nearly choke to death on exercise equipment a week prior to the dog’s death.
Dugan stood holding his hands at waist level, his jaw jutting upward, as Hopwood recited the grisly facts of the case. He wore a blue striped button-down shirt and had patted his dark hair down with gel for the court appearance.
Morris said Wednesday he plans to file for dismissal of all charges this month, given that animal cruelty laws apply only to acts against living animals, he said.
While Morris asked for $2,500 cash bail, acknowledging the need for “some kind of bail,” the prosecutor requested a $30,000 bail, and Salem Superior Court Judge David Lowy set his bail at $20,000 cash with conditions of remaining drug and alcohol free and attending a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
“I don’t see this being a $2,500 bail case,” Lowy said.
Dugan had moved to Gloucester from Canton four years ago, when his mother and stepfather relocated here. He earned a GED, then worked as a mason and later a tuna fisherman, according to Morris.
While living in Canton, at age 17, Dugan was convicted of vehicular homicide, found guilty of drunken driving in a crash that killed his 17-year-old female passenger. He served two years on that conviction.
He faced a few other charges in district court in the past four years. A 2007 Gloucester police report notes that Dugan was also arrested on an animal cruelty charge in 2007 after breaking the legs of a past girlfriend’s dog “in a fit of rage,” according to reports at the time.
“His record, it looks longer than it is,” Morris said.
Excluding a period this winter when Dugan met bail terms, he has remained in Middleton Jail since his early December arrest.
That period of release, which lasted about six weeks after Dugan’s stepfather Eugene C. Tessicini met the terms of his $20,000 bail in late January, ended in an arrest at the Captain’s Lodge Motel. Police rearrested Dugan at the motel March 7, after Dugan admitted to taking Percocet pills, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in the motel room.
“There was more than just the fact that he was drinking,” prosecutor Karen Hopwood argued Wednesday. “He failed pretrial probation on this matter.”
If convicted on an animal cruelty charge, Dugan could face a state prison sentence of no more than five years, or in a house of correction for not more than 2.5 years. He could also face a fine of up to $2,500 on each count, or a combination of fine and jail time.
The charge of possession with intent to distribute carries a potential sentence of 10 years or fewer in jail or 2 1/2 years in a house of correction. That term can be combined with a fine between $1,000 and $10,000. The defendant can also receive only the jail sentence or only the fine.
Meanwhile, eight women, some of whom had protested outside of Gloucester District Court pushing for a strong sentence for Dugan, followed the case to Salem Wednesday. The protesters had long awaited the necropsy results that surfaced Wednesday, assuming the finding would be key to the case.
Gloucester resident Mary Lou Maraganis, a co-founder of the newly-opened Gloucester Dog Park and an animal rights activist, said the results of Wednesday’s arraignment were the best she could hope for. She said she was struck by the necropsy results revealing Xena was dead when allegedly sliced open and gutted.
“In some ways I’m grateful for that, but by the same token, that you could do that to your own being, living or dead, is kind of indicative of his mentality,” Maraganis said after the arraignment.
Lisa Casavant, an animal rights activist who has followed the case closely, traveled from Andover to sit in on the arraignment and wave signs outside the court that morning.
“It was satisfying just to see him sitting in the cage,” Casavant said.
Kerin Hawley, another Gloucester resident who attended the arraignment and protested beforehand, vowed to stay on the heels of the action.
“I’m just sickened by this whole thing, sickened by it. We have to be Xena’s voice,” she said. “We’ll be back.”
Dugan will return to superior court for a pretrial hearing on July 10.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.