By Marjorie Nesin
---- — The 27-year-old Gloucester man accused of gutting his pet pit bull Xena in what police said looked like an attempt to retrieve heroin from the dog’s innards served jail time on a charge of vehicular homicide for driving drunk at the age of 17 in a 2003 crash that left a Canton girl dead.
According to records obtained Thursday by the Times, John Dugan was released from jail in 2005, two years after his final court appearance on the vehicular homicide charge in August 2003. The records confirm that the John Dugan involved in the Canton fatality is the same John Dugan now charged in the grisly pit bull case here.
Dugan was charged in the June 18, 2003, crash with causing the death of a 17-year-old girl when he was allegedly driving a vehicle at 60 to 70 mph in a 20 mph residential neighborhood, and lost control of the vehicle, striking a concrete retaining wall, then a parked vehicle, according to reports from the time in the Patriot Ledger of Quincy.
He pleaded innocent in Norfolk Superior Court on charges of vehicular homicide, causing serious bodily injury while driving drunk, drunken driving, operating a motor vehicle recklessly, operating a motor vehicle negligently, failing to drive within marked lanes, and speeding, according to Patriot Ledger newspaper reports. The records obtained by the Times confirm he was convicted of vehicular homicide while driving drunk.
The crash that killed Najwa Khabbaz, 17, and sent Dugan and another 17-year-old to a hospital for treatment, then Dugan to jail, occurred about 9 p.m. on Canton’s Fencourt Road, according to Patriot Ledger reports. Immediately before the crash, the teenagers had been at a park where, 17-year-old Dugan told police, he drank five or six beers before the teenagers left to buy cigarettes, according to police reports obtained by the Patriot Ledger at the time.
Gloucester Police Chief Leonard Campanello and a spokeswoman for Essex County District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett said Thursday they could not release information on Dugan’s background.
Dugan was released from Middleton Jail last week after meeting the terms of his $20,000 bail, a bail set to take into consideration factors including the potential punishment and past charges, according to court documents.
Dugan’s newly appointed attorney, John Morris, declined to comment Thursday on his client’s past vehicular homicide case because, he said, the only material he has received for Dugan’s case so far is a Gloucester police report on the pit bull case. Morris, assigned to the case on Jan. 7, will take over for attorney Thomas J. O’Shea, who defended Dugan up to that point, filing a motion on Jan. 4 for Judge Joseph Jennings to dismiss the case on the grounds that it was lacking the element of cruelty as legally defined.
O’Shea had argued that Massachusetts law defines animal cruelty as to “overload, overwork, torment, deprive of necessary sustenance, cruelly beat, mutilate or kill an animal.” O’Shea had written that his client, Dugan, performed none of those acts in the Dec. 3 incident, saying the dog’s ingestion of heroin — not Dugan’s cutting open of Xena — killed the dog.
Necropsy reports on Xena’s corpse have yet to be completed, according to sources close to the case. Though police believe Dugan removed Xena’s entrails to retrieve heroin the dog had swallowed in a bag, Dugan told Gloucester police in December that he had cut open Xena to relieve bloating after the dog died from ingesting heroin that had been left on a counter in his Prospect Street apartment.
Dugan’s current lawyer, Morris, plans to file for dismissal on the same grounds as O’Shea’s filing, he said in a telephone interview Thursday. Morris said his client would have committed no animal cruelty if the dog were already dead when he allegedly cut her open.
“Do I believe that there’s insufficient evidence of animal cruelty? Yes,” Morris said. “I’d be filing a motion to dismiss because the Commonwealth can’t meet the burden at the probable cause level from the plain language contained within the statute.”
The case is likely to move to Superior Court after a March 5 status hearing in Gloucester District Court, according to Morris.
Still, an online petition named “Request justice for Xena, gutted by her owner,” calling on Jennings to harshly sentence Dugan, had drawn nearly 70,000 signatures as of Thursday night.
If found guilty of the animal cruelty charge leveled against him, Dugan would face up to five years in a state prison, up to 21/2 years in a house of correction, a fine no higher than $2,500, or any combination of a fine and jail time. He would also be barred from any further pet ownership.
Dugan faces no drug charges because, though Dugan told police the dog died after ingesting heroin in Dugan’s home, police recovered no drugs at Dugan’s residence during their search, several sources close to the case told the Times.
Beyond the vehicular homicide conviction, 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.
He was also charged with marijuana possession in 2009 after police serving him with a restraining order found more than an ounce of pot and $1,900 in cash in his apartment. Also in 2009, Dugan faced a charge of vandalizing property when, according to police reports, a domestic dispute ended with Dugan slashing a Mt. Pleasant Street resident’s tires. Those charges do not appear on Dugan’s criminal record.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at email@example.com.