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Friday, 13 July, 2001, 21:44 GMT 22:44 UK
Three years for road-rage dog killer
Leo, the dog killed in a road-rage incident
The road-rage killing of Leo shocked America
The California man who killed a small dog by throwing it into oncoming traffic in a fit of road-rage has been sentenced to three years in prison.

Trial spectators in the San Jose courtroom applauded as the judge read the sentence.

I believe that prison can send a message and it can deter

Judge Kevin Murphy
Andrew Burnett asked the court for mercy, saying: "I'm really sorry for what happened. If there's anything I could ever say or do to bring back Leo [the dog], I would."

But San Jose Superior Court Judge Kevin Murphy rejected Burnett's apology as insincere and gave him the maximum three-year penalty, instead of the probation recommended by county officials.

Burnett, 27, a former telephone repair man, was convicted last month of felony animal cruelty.

He killed the dog, a 10-year-old bichon frise, after he was involved in a road collision with its owner, Sara McBurnett, outside San Jose International Airport on 11 February 2000.

Andrew Burnett was enraged by a minor incident in traffic and took out his rage on Leo because he was the easiest target

Sara McBurnett
The accident was minor, but Ms McBurnett and other witnesses said Burnett lost his temper, yelled at Ms McBurnett, and then snatched the dog out of her car, hurled it into the traffic, and sped off in his own vehicle.

"It's a case of rage-induced violence," the judge said. "I believe that prison can send a message and it can deter."

The judge described as "absolutely ridiculous" the defence claim that Burnett instinctively snatched the dog from the car after it bit him.

The Santa Clara County Probation Department had recommended a year in jail followed by probation, but Ms McBurnett launched a vigorous campaign to get Burnett the maximum penalty.

"Andrew Burnett was enraged by a minor incident in traffic and took out his rage on Leo because he was the easiest target," Ms McBurnett said before sentence was passed.

"His clear intent was to terrorise me in the fastest and severest way he could under the circumstances," she said.

$120,000 reward

About $120,000 in donations were made to a reward fund for information on the dog's killer, who became known as "the most hated man in America", but despite extensive public attention, investigators had little to go on.

There was only a description of a thin white man in his 20s with a goatee and the car he was driving.

Finally, in December, an anonymous e-mail pointed to Burnett, who was already under investigation by the police for other charges.

In April, Burnett was indicted by a grand jury and pleaded not guilty to the charges.

About $75,000 of the reward will go to John Mora, a San Jose man who witnessed the crime. The rest will be split evenly among four other citizens who helped with the investigation.

The BBC's Peter Bowes in Los Angeles
"He grabbed her small dog through a car window"
See also:

23 Apr 00 | From Our Own Correspondent
Californian road to anger
16 Mar 00 | Americas
$100,000 reward on road rage dog
09 Mar 00 | Americas
$50,000 reward for dog killer
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