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Schenectady man faces jail for killing cat

Schenectady man faces jail for killing cat

Birch faces two years in jail; jury concludes actions not justified
Schenectady man faces jail for killing cat
Don Birch
Photographer: Photo provided

SCHENECTADY — A city man faces up to two years in jail for killing a neighbor’s injured tabby cat in front of the neighbor.

Donald Birch Jr., 35, was convicted Monday by a jury of aggravated cruelty to animals under a statute that is nicknamed “Buster’s Law” after another Schenectady cat that was killed in a depraved manner.

Birch was arrested last summer in the death of Smokey, a 7-pound gray cat. Officials said that on Aug. 31 Birch stomped on the cat shortly after it had been hit by a car and then repeatedly swung it against a tree, killing it. Eyewitnesses called police.

Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney said jurors rejected Birch’s claim that the injuries the cat had suffered from being hit by the car justified his attack on it. Carney said this claim was contradicted by the results of a necropsy performed on the cat’s remains by a veterinary pathologist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, which showed no critical injuries inflicted by the car.

Schenectady County Court Judge Matthew J. Sypniewski presided over the trial. Assistant District Attorney John J. Carson prosecuted the case. Birch was represented by attorney Cheryl Coleman. 

Carson said Tuesday that there was not a history of animosity between Birch and the cat’s owner. They were together and both witnessed Smokey being hit by the car, in fact. Birch quickly killed the cat over the verbal protests of the owner and the other onlookers, Carson said.

“It’s very hard for me to quantify what his actual thoughts were,” Carson said. 

The case came down to whether Birch’s actions were justified, Carson said. The prosecution asserted they were not, he said, noting that Birch made no attempt to check the cat’s injuries and that the necropsy showed they weren’t grievous.

The jury deliberated for about three hours before finding Birch guilty of one count each of aggravated cruelty to animals, a felony, and overdriving, torturing and injuring animals, a misdemeanor. Birch is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 12 and faces up to two years in jail.

In an emailed statement, Carney said Tuesday: “What Mr. Birch did was horrifying to all who witnessed it. He had no business intervening in this situation and beating this poor cat to death before his owner had a chance to seek medical assistance from a veterinarian and depriving his owner of the love, affection, and companionship that any person derives from a beloved pet. We have always taken cases of animal abuse seriously in my office and the people of our county should know that in his role as animal abuse prosecutor, John Carson is committed to skillfully seeing these cases through to a just and appropriate resolution.”

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