Joyce Cornell booking photo

Joyce Cornell

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BENNINGTON — The court has denied a Sandgate woman’s request to throw out her felony charge of torturing her family’s dog, an allegation that stemmed from her shooting the animal when it reportedly tried to attack her.

Superior Judge Cortland Corsones said Joyce Cornell’s innocence or guilt should be determined by a jury, because she is facing a serious charge that led to the dog’s being put down.

Corsones said a court dismissal of the charge — which is punishable by up to five years in prison — could also shake the public’s confidence in the judiciary. He cited a legal precedent stating the court should dismiss prosecution only in unusual, compelling cases that would assure fundamental fairness in the administration of justice.

“The court should not interfere with the jurors’ role here,” Corsones wrote in a decision dated Sept. 18.

Three days prior, the Bennington judge presided over a hearing in which Cornell, 46, argued for the charge’s dismissal. She said the dog, a Great Dane, had previously attacked her and she’d shot the animal without evil intent to cause harm when it acted aggressively toward her on the morning of Dec. 26.

A psychologist, Dr. John Holt, testified by phone that an interview with Cornell and her husband showed “she didn’t appear to act with malicious intent when she shot her dog.”

Cornell said she and her husband earlier tried to return the dog to Second Chance Animal Center in Arlington, where they adopted it. They were apparently told the Great Dane would end up being euthanized if it were returned, so the couple decided to keep the animal.

Her attorney, Rick Burgoon, said state law allows the shooting of a domesticated pet that attacks a person as long as the animal isn’t restrained. Because the dog had been hooked to a line when Cornell shot it twice, Burgoon asserted it had been more mobile than restrained.

Cornell said she shot the dog twice, the second time to try putting the animal out of its misery.

The state opposed the request for dismissal, saying Cornell intentionally shot the dog and left it to suffer from the gunshot wounds for several hours. Vermont State Police, who reported finding the dog bleeding heavily from the neck, euthanized it later that day.

Burgoon underscored that the state wouldn’t be able to prove Cornell shot her pet with evil intent — a necessary element to proving her guilt.

“If they can’t meet that burden now, they certainly can’t meet that at trial,” the defense attorney said in arguing for a court dismissal of the charge.

He added that Cornell is a U.S. green card holder, so her travels overseas would be affected by an active felony case. And any trial that could clear her name has been delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Judge Corsones describes this as “collateral consequences due to laws beyond the court’s control.” He said there has been “no undue passage of time” in bringing the case to trial.

Cornell also is facing a misdemeanor charge, giving false information to a law enforcement officer.

In July, the state dropped her other felony charge of killing the dog when she underscored that it was state police who killed the animal.

Contact Tiffany Tan at or @tiffgtan on Facebook and Twitter.


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