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October 25, 2014

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Judge: Dog killing may have been warning sign of more dangerous behavior

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Steve Marcus

Jeremy Espiritu, 22, appears in court before his sentencing at the Regional Justice Center on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Espiritu told police that he stabbed the family dog, Serenity, with a six-inch serrated knife because he “wanted to.” The dog later died of the injury.

Updated Tuesday, May 6, 2014 | 8:15 p.m.

Jeremy Espiritu Sentencing

Jeremy Espiritu, 22, appears in court before his sentencing at the Regional Justice Center on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. Espiritu told police that he stabbed the family dog, Serenity, with a six-inch serrated knife because he Launch slideshow »

Likening the actions of admitted dog killer Jeremy Espiritu to that of a budding serial killer, Chief Deputy District Attorney Bernie Zadrowski successfully persuaded a judge Tuesday to impose strict punishment on the 22-year-old to avoid "creating the next Jeffrey Dahmer."

"This is a very unusual case. It's an absolutely horrific crime," Judge Jerome Tao said, taking Zadrowski's recommendation as he sentenced Espiritu to a year in Clark County jail for a felony charge of attempting to kill an animal.

Tao, who had the option of treating the offense as a gross misdemeanor and releasing Espiritu on probation, said he chose to keep Espiritu behind bars out of fear that he might become violent again. Espiritu must also serve four years of probation under the sentence, and if he violates Tao's terms — which require him to wear an electronic monitoring device — he could serve a maximum of four years in prison.

Espiritu, who has been jailed since his stepfather's dog bled to death Dec. 5, pleaded guilty in March to killing the black Labrador mixed breed named Serenity at his parents' home in the 4000 block of Snead Drive.

According to a Metro Police report, his stepfather, Jay Vigilia, 43, woke up because he heard the animal cry out in pain. Vigilia went to investigate and discovered a large pool of blood, a 6-inch serrated knife and his dog collapsed in a hallway, bleeding. When an officer asked Espiritu why he hurt the dog, he reportedly said he did it because he likes to hurt dogs.

The animal was taken to a hospital, where it bled to death.

Shackled in chains and clad in a blue jumpsuit before Tao, Espiritu said during his sentencing Tuesday that he was under the influence of drugs when he slit the dog's throat. He wasn't thinking straight — that's why he gave the officer such a callous explanation, Espiritu said.

“What I did was a terrible thing,” he said. “In regard to my case and being a potential serial killer, I have no previous act of violence. Violence is not my operation.”

Calling Espiritu "an intellectual" whose future ambitions could be tarnished by a felony conviction, his attorney, Donishia Campbell, pleaded with Tao to consider her client's battle with mental illness and drug abuse. Campbell said Espiritu has expressed remorse and misses the dog.

Espiritu's mother and a friend attended his sentencing, but they declined to speak with a Sun reporter. A small group of activists was also there.

Espiritu's case eventually will be transferred to a specialized Clark County court for defendants struggling with mental health issues, where he will likely be provided with treatment options.

"In cases like this, there is some evidence that it could be a warning sign of potential dangers in the future, not just to animals but to human beings," Tao said. "Is it a one-time thing or is he going to be the next Ted Bundy? That's a much more complicated analysis."

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