LIMA — Animal lovers packed a courtroom Monday hoping to see and perhaps yell at a man accused of beating a dog to death, but they left disappointed.
The man charged, Dennis L. Phalen, 68, entered a written plea of not guilty to avoid an appearance in front of what was sure to be an angry group of animal lovers.
Phalen is charged with cruelty against a companion animal, a first-degree misdemeanor. The charges carry a maximum penalty up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Phalen quietly arrived at court earlier in the day with his long beard shaved, as well as his head. He also wore a hooded sweatshirt as he signed a bond to remain out of jail.
Phalen allegedly beat a Schnauzer-type dog with his hands and fists until the dog’s head caved in after a fight with his wife, according to officials.
Dozens of animal lovers packed the courtroom, and some picketed outside the court. They were visibly frustrated when Municipal Court Prosecutor Nicole Smith told them Phalen would not make an appearance.
In a move not seen every day, Smith took the time to talk to the crowd, explaining Phalen was just exercising a right to enter a plea in writing instead of appearing. He hired Lima attorney John Fisher to represent him.
No further dates have been set. The next hearing to be scheduled likely will be a pretrial.
Smith also told the group the charge would not change in the case.
A person in the crowd asked Smith whether all hearings will be in the courtroom open to the public including plea bargains. Smith said hearings on the record would be in the courtroom, but plea negotiations take place behind closed doors and go on the record if there is a change of plea.
The packed courtroom was unusual for Lima Municipal Court for one case. Even high-profile murder cases do not attract the interest or turnout this case generated.
Aside from the people inside the courtroom, a group gathered outside, pushing for stronger laws involving animal care in Ohio.