A forensic pathologist and forensic entomologist offered important timeline testimony in the trial of a man who is charged with killing two dogs.
The Dogs’ Death
On November 22, 2014, a landscaper found a black trash bag on top of a pile of leaves that he had collected. The landscaper was curious about the contents, so he opened the bag. Inside, he found the bodies of two 20-week-old dogs. The landscaper immediately called the police, who began an investigation.
The police investigated the death of the dogs by sharing photos on Facebook. A series of tips led the police to Jason Gentry, who ran an unlicensed North Shore kennel and Dominick Donovan, who had created the mixed breed of guard dog that the dogs belonged to.
Gentry and Donovan were arrested and charged with two counts of cruelty to animals and two counts of malicious killing of animals. Gentry was also charged with five additional counts of animal cruelty and one count of operating an unlicensed kennel. Both men initially pleaded not guilty and blamed the other for the death of the dogs. Gentry later pleaded guilty to animal cruelty and other charges under a cooperation agreement. Donovan’s case went to trial.
At Donovan’s trial, Gentry testified that during Donovan’s trip to Salem on November 1 and November 2, 2014, he watched Donovan kill the two dogs by hanging them from a garage door railing. Gentry said that he watched Donovan drive away with the dogs’ bodies in a trash bag in the trunk of his car. The bodies of the dogs were not found for almost three weeks.
The landscaper who found the dogs and other witnesses testified that the dogs showed no signs of decomposition. A veterinarian who testified for the prosecution suggested that it was possible that the dogs had not started to decompose. The temperature during November had been cool and had dipped below freezing several times.
Donovan’s defense team presented its own witnesses who testified that it was unlikely that the dogs could have been dead for 20 days without showing some signs of decomposition.
Forensic Expert Testimony
Dr. Priya Banerjee, a forensic pathologist and assistant medical examiner for the state of Rhode Island testified as a defense witness. Dr. Banerjee said that it would be unusual for any body to not show signs of decomposition such as an odor or bloating within a day or two of death. Dr. Banerjee acknowledged that the decomposition process could have been slowed by cold temperature, but said decomposition still should have occurred. The temperature at the time had averaged 48 degrees. Dr. Banerjee testified that the fact that the bodies did not have an odor suggested that the bodies had been found “much closer to the time of death” than the three week time period that had passed from when Donovan had allegedly killed the dogs.
The defense team also called Maria Gemmellaro, a forensic entomologist from Rutgers University to testify. Gemmellaro has previously done training and consulting for the FBI. Gemmellaro testified that it would take just minutes for flies to find and lay eggs on a body once exposed. The necropsy that was performed on the dogs showed no evidence of flies, fly eggs, maggots, or beetles.