SARASOTA -- A Sarasota man was sentenced to 14 years in prison with five years probation after being found guilty of breaking into his ex-employer's business and beating his dog to death with a tire iron.
Kevin Joseph Koscielniak, 52, broke into John's Automotive April 27, where he was caught on surveillance video beating Ashton, the owner's mastiff mix, for 10 minutes until the dog was dead. Koscielniak had been fired earlier in the day after he arrived at work intoxicated, according to investigative records.
The State Attorney's Office accepted a plea deal in the animal cruelty case to get a 14-year sentence. Koscielniak pleaded no contest to armed burglary, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
"The maximum for animal cruelty was only five years. Clearly we wanted to take an aggressive stance," said assistant state attorney Art Jackman Jr.
"The minute he broke into the building and armed himself with the tire iron we knew we could charge him with armed burglary, which carries a maximum life sentence."
The case sets a tougher tone for how the State Attorney's Office will handle animal cruelty cases. The office now has a division to prosecute animal cruelty cases and work with local law enforcement. There are now 18 pending felony animal cruelty cases.
"Our office takes an aggressive stance against animal cruelty," Jackman said. "This was a senseless act of violence, indicative of a depraved mind. What he did showed a barbaric mindset that posed a significant danger to the community."
The night Koscielniak was fired, he climbed over a barbed wire fence and climbed to the roof of the building where he broke in. Once inside, he grabbed a tire iron and beat the dog, Jackman told Judge Donna Berlin. He then wrapped the carcass with a blanket and cut a hole in the fence to the neighboring business where he buried Ashton in a shallow grave.
The owner reported his mastiff missing the following morning. The killing was caught on the shop's surveillance video.
"I was called to investigate the scene," investigator Mark Lefebvre said. "I reviewed the surveillance video and pieced the crime together."
The owner watched the video before investigators arrived.
"When we located Koscielniak the next day we found the dog's blood on him," Lefebvre said. "The blanket he moved the dog with was still in his vehicle as well."
In addition to armed burglary, Koscielniak was charged with cruelty to animals causing death, improper disposal of a dead animal, two counts of burglary, one count of tampering with evidence and one count of criminal mischief.
Gloria Giraldo, 42, cried as she testified how Ashton had been part of the family since he was a puppy. The dog's violent death was traumatic for her 9-year-old daughter, Giraldo said.
"I think he's dangerous," Giraldo testified. "My little girl cries for her dog."
As for their former employee, her daughter is afraid of him: "She thinks he's bad."
"We just want him far away because he could do more," Giraldo said.
Giraldo said her husband sensed Koscielniak's anger when he fired him, but no one expected what happened.
"We know he was mad at us but there's no reason for what he did," Giraldo said.
Koscielniak, who told the judge he did not want a jury trial or a defense, is prohibited from ever contacting the victims.
"Whatever frame of mind he was in that night was heinous and truly hard to comprehend," Lefebvre said.
The case attracted the attention of animal activists horrified by the cruelty.
"As an animal advocate, it has really been heart-breaking," said Laurie Crawford, president of the Animal Network.said.
The State Attorney's Office has been working with law enforcement across the region to go after animal cruelty cases. Lisa Chittaro, assistant state attorney and a leader in prosecuting animal cruelty cases, said there is a direct correlation between violent people and people abusing animals.
"Anyone who is violent to animals will be violent to people," Chittaro said.
This case sends a message that such cruelty won't be tolerated, she said.
"It's shocking for the community to see things like this but we encourage people to report if they see evidence of animal abuse because there is no forgiving to it," said Joel Richmond, enforcement supervisor for Manatee County Animal Services.
Julie Royal, who founded Royal Pet Rescue, was in court Wednesday to witness the plea agreement.
"I was very pleased he got sentenced for 14 years," Royal said. "Animal cruelty needs to be taken seriously."