The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

February 18, 2012

Bench trial set for man accused of burning dog's body

A Madison man accused of fatally shooting a neighbor’s puppy and then trying to dispose of its body by burning it is scheduled for a bench trial May 2 in Limestone County District Court, records show.

Jimmy Tunstill, 61, of 10800 Cedar Acres Lane, is accused of shooting 6-month-old “Mitzy,” a black Labrador retriever owned by neighbors Billy Gatlin and his daughter, Brandi.

Both Tunstill and Billy Gatlin, 44, of 10820 Cedar Acres Lane, were arraigned this week before District Judge Jeanne Anderson on separate charges in the case.

Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely said in January Tunstill told officials he shot the puppy Tuesday, Jan. 10, because he believed it was trying to get into the pen containing his chickens. Tunstill also admitted burning the dead puppy on a brush pile near his home in order to conceal its death from his neighbors, the sheriff said.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to the Gatlin home about 5:15 p.m. that day by Gatlin and his daughter, who wanted to report animal cruelty in the shooting and burning of their puppy. After reporting their puppy missing, the Gatlins had called the Sheriff’s Department after finding the dog’s remains on Tunstill’s brush pile. Blakely confirmed there had been an “ongoing problem” with the Gatlins’ puppy entering Tunstill’s property and that Tunstill had reported the puppy to animal-control officers in the past. According to Gatlins’ statements filed with the court, Brandi stated she had asked Tunstill earlier in the day if he had seen the puppy and he said he had not. Billy stated Tunstill had called animal control about the puppy that day, that an animal-control officer had brought out a trap and that the puppy was all right when the officer was there.

Sheriff’s officials investigated the complaint but made no arrests. Instead, they filed a report with a recommendation and let the District Court judge decide what charges, if any, should be brought. Tunstill was subsequently charged with failing to bury livestock and Billy Gatlin was charged with permitting a puppy to run at large, records show.

Tunstill is accused of violating the law for burning the dead animal near his home, not for shooting it. The law reads: “No such animal shall be burned or buried sufficiently near a residence or residences as to create a nuisance. Any person violating this section, whether by failure to burn or bury an animal dying or being killed in his possession or by causing the same to be burned in such proximity to a dwelling or in such other way as to become a nuisance shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, on conviction, shall be fined not more than $50.”

Records show Tunstill’s trial is a bench trial, which means the judge will hear evidence and decide guilt or innocence; there will be no jury.


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