BENNINGTON -- A Readsboro man told a judge Thursday as he was being sentenced for killing his tenant's cat last year, that the death was an accident and he intended only to scare the animal when he threw a block of wood at it.
Michael R. Choquette, 46, pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to animals and was sentenced by Judge Nancy Corsones to go before a reparative board. Choquette had been scheduled for a court trial Thursday, but in exchange for his guilty plea, the state reduced the original charge to a misdemeanor and agreed to not ask for anything more severe than probation.
In March 2012, Choquette was charged with two felony counts of cruelty to animals after State Police responded to a complaint made by Kelly Gancarz, who told them she believed Choquette had killed her cat and put its body in an outdoor wood boiler furnace.
Police spoke to Choquette, and according to them he admitted to throwing a piece of wood at the cat. He said the wood bounced, hit the cat and killed it. He said he put the dead animal in the boiler to avoid conflict with Gancarz. During the hearing, Choquette said he loves animals and could not see the cat when he threw the block of wood. It had been yowling and he wished to scare it toward the front of the house.
He told Corsones, who questioned him on various aspects of the incident, that he was afraid of what Gancarz's reaction would be. He and his attorney, William D. Wright, made statements indicating the relationship between the two had been tense.
The second charge of animal cruelty was dismissed, as evidence regarding it was ordered suppressed by the court in response to a motion made by Wright.
Wright said the act was an accident and the court needs to look at what motivated it, not the result which was unintended. Wright argued for a fine to be imposed, saying his client has difficulty going between Readsboro and Bennington. He said media attention to the case has also led to him being harassed.
Corsones, who said she is an animal lover herself and recently lost one of her pet cats, had to put some effort into judging this case. She felt for Gancarz, but said she had to focus on the charge that had been pleaded to. Corsones said she did not condone throwing the block of wood, but could understand the motivation behind it. She said she could not comprehend Choquette's follow up actions, asking him why he did not call police or an animal control officer.
Choquette said he did not think it was a police matter.
The cat, "Dizzy," is greatly missed by Gancarz, who told the court it felt like she had lost a child.
Deputy State's Attorney Alexander Burke said Choquette had no criminal record to speak of, and so a restorative punishment was best.
Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.