Animal Cruelty Case Sentence Upheld, Court Of Appeals Cuts Restitution


Modelo before and after

A Sierra Vista man convicted of animal cruelty after 10 dogs were found injured or unfed at a local residence in late 2015 was properly sentenced to serve nine years on probation once released from prison, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled earlier this month.

Sha’ton Damien Murdock
Sha’ton Damien Murdock [Photo courtesy AZDOC]
Sha’ton Damien Murdock left prison in May after serving time for felony animal cruelty related to two dogs -Modelo and Matilda- who were found in critical condition with life-threatening injuries. He must also serve three consecutive three-year terms of probation for neglecting other dogs and is prohibited from owning or caring for dogs while on probation.

Murdock, 37, appealed the probation sentence, contending it should be only three years, not nine. He also contended the trial judge erred by designating the dogs as “victims” rather than his property, and he disputed a court order requiring him to pay $1,090.40 to a Smiling Dog Rescue board member who served as the dogs’ victim representative and testified at the trial.

Murdock did not challenge an order that he reimburse nearly $2,000 for emergency veterinarian care.

On Oct. 2, the Arizona Court of Appeals upheld Murdock’s nine years of probation but overturned the payment to the board member. The court ruled the expenses the board member incurred were “consequential” to Murdock’s criminal conduct, not a “direct result” of that conduct, as required by state law.

Ironically, Murdock’s release from prison in May coincided with Modelo’s appearance on the cover of Tucson Lifestyle Magazine after the bulldog-mix bested 150 other canines for the honor.

Today the 5-year-old pooch is known as Gordon, the name bestowed upon him by his adoptive humans who describe him in the magazine as “the sweetest, snuggliest little potato.” But in 2015, he was simply “Victim Modelo,” one of the most severely injured of Murdock’s dogs.

Court documents show Modelo was unable to walk due to untreated infections from puncture wounds and lacerations when authorities turned him over to Smiling Dog Rescue in Tucson. He also risked losing a leg and an eye.

Modelo’s leg required reconstructive surgery which kept him hospitalized for a month. He then spent several months recuperating under the care of rescue founder Rica Powell before he became well enough for adoption.

The 2015 charges against Murdock weren’t the first time he was prosecuted for animal cruelty. In 2012, he was arrested after 31 dogs were found inside a Huachuca City home in what authorities believed was a puppy mill for fighting dogs.

Murdock was convicted of several misdemeanors but the judge at that time lacked authority to prohibit him from owning dogs in the future. Two of the dogs in that case had to be euthanized.