By Marjorie Nesin
---- — A Gloucester District Court judge set a pretrial hearing date for May 3 in the case against John “Jack” Dugan, the 27-year-old Gloucester man accused of gutting his pet pit bull in what police say was an attempt to remove heroin from the dog’s innards.
Many people close to the case, including Dugan’s lawyer John Morris, had expected the case to be moved forward to Salem Superior Court as a result of the Tuesday status hearing. But, to the dismay of about a half dozen protesters who stood in front of the court from about 9 a.m. to the time Dugan left the court about 11 a.m., Judge Joseph Jennings took no further action on the charge of animal cruelty except to extend it to May 3, as the defense requested, and add the pretrial hearing for that date, as well.
Dugan has yet to enter a formal plea or face a grand jury indictment in the case that has captured the interest of animal rights activists around the country, with more than 93,000 people signing an online petition urging Judge Jenings to deal harshly with Dugan’s case.
”We’re here to give them the message that people are watching and we’re not going to forget, ever,” said animal rights activist Lisa Casavant.
Casavant travelled from Andover to stand outside the courthouse Tuesday. Gloucester resident Kristen Lark, a pitbull owner herself, came, too, to stand and defend the deceased dog, Xena — part of a breed Lark said is already persecuted.
“What he did to this dog is horrendous,” Lark said. “And the kicker is pitbulls already have a bad rep.”
The protesters waved signs with printed images of the pitbull Xena and messages memorializing the dog, greeting passers-by and watching as Dugan entered the court,. He had been out on bail from jail mid-January upon meeting the terms of a $20,000 cash bond.
Since his release from Middleton Jail, Dugan has entered a drug and alcohol daytime treatment program and has otherwise laid low, he told a Times reporter at the courthouse Tuesday.
”Right now, I just go home and watch movies with the girlfriend mostly,” Dugan said. “I try to keep my head down.”
Dugan had been arrested in December after police found Xena’s disemboweled body discarded in a pile of brush near a Sadler Street fence that separates the street from the wooded area by the Route 128 Extension, according to a police report. Police said Dugan, in a December police interview, admitted to cutting Xena open after the dog ingested heroin that had been left on a table in his home.
While police believe Dugan cut open the dog to retrieve a sealed bag of heroin that the dog had also ingested, Dugan had told police he cut Xena open in order to relieve bloating so he could dispose of her body.
Dugan, dressed in slacks and a sweater, sat in court Tuesday, his girlfriend and Xena’s co-owner, Alexa Salah, clasping one of his hands between hers. Salah confirmed that “of course” she misses Xena, but she has forgiven Dugan for what happened to Xena while the dog was in his care, and she declined further comment.
Dugan’s attorney, Morris, did not return calls for comment on the case Tuesday, but the defense likely requested a continuation because of the possibility of the case moving to Superior Court. When cases move to the Superior Court level, the District Court case is dismissed and the entire process starts anew, according to Carrie Kimball Monahan, a spokeswoman for the office of District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett.
”I am able to confirm that the case is currently being reviewed for possible Superior Court action,” Monahan said. “Once it gets to Superior Court, you’re just dismissing the district court case. So if you’re anticipating it, you don’t want to spend so much time in district because it’s just going to get kicked.”
Monahan noted that a necropsy report, detailing Xena’s death, would likely be considered part of evidence and said she cannot confirm whether the district attorney had, as of Tuesday, received the report.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.