West Vincent Township man not justified in killing family’s pets
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
A West Vincent Township man never denied shooting two of his neighbors’ dogs that strayed onto his property on Feb. 12; at issue for a Chester County jury was his state of mind.
In his closing argument on Wednesday, Assistant District Attorney Kevin P. Pierce argued that Gabriel Pilotti, 73, of Chester Springs, acted with malice and willfulness when he used a single-shot, 20-gauge shotgun to kill 2-year-old Argus and then 1-year-old Fiona, Bernese mountain dogs owned by neighbors Mary and William Bock.
Defense attorney Thomas H. Ramsay strongly disagreed, insisting that his client had no such malicious intent and was simply reacting to a perceived threat to his sheep. In fact, in May 2012, Pilotti shot two pit bulls mauling a neighbors’ sheep and was hailed as a hero for his actions, Ramsay said.
After 4 ½ hours of deliberations, the jury of nine women and three men found Pilotti guilty of two counts of animal cruelty. Having been warned by Senior Judge Ronald C. Nagle to avoid any outbursts, about a dozen Pilotti supporters and an equal number of advocates for the Bock family registered no reaction as the verdict was announced. Pilotti was also impassive. Nagle set a sentencing date of Oct. 28.
After the verdict, neither Pierce nor Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan had any comment on the jury’s decision, citing the pending sentencing. Hogan said he did not know whether prosecutors would seek jail time for Pilotti. Ramsay also declined to comment.
William Bock said his family was relieved by the verdict. “We’re glad we finally have closure,” he said. “We feel that justice was done and can explain that to our children.” Bock said he was grateful to the people who worked to bring the case to prosecution, including the West Vincent Township Police, District Attorney’s Office, the Chester County SPCA, and a group of animal advocates.
Bock said it had been difficult listening to testimony describing the family’s pets as threatening. “When I heard him say Fiona lunged at a sheep, I could barely stay in my seat,” he said. “That dog never lunged at anything.”
The jury forewoman said the panel experienced some difficulty as well when it began its deliberations. She said it was a challenge to follow the judge’s instructions and keep emotion out of the decision-making. She said the group had to focus on the law. “It wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t pleasant,” the woman said. “I am glad it is over.”
During the deliberations, the jury had one request: It wanted to listen again to a voicemail that Pilotti had left for a neighbor shortly after the incident. In the message, Pilotti stated: “Two shots, two more dogs.”
Pierce suggested that Pilotti sounded like he was gloating. He argued that Pilotti’s testimony about seeing a dog and going into his house to get a gun proved that he had no intention of using less extreme measures to shoo away the dogs, one of which he acknowledged was running away when he fired. “Why go out of your house with a gun if your intention is not to shoot?” Pierce asked.
Calling the prosecution “unfair and unjustifiable,” Ramsay argued that the law permitted Pilotti to kill the dogs if they were pursuing his sheep. “He had the legal right to shoot them,” Ramsay said. In addition, the fact that the dogs were loose was a violation of dog-leash laws. “They had no right to be in that pasture,” Ramsay said.