A man who is accused of killing his wife's favorite dog, then skinning the animal, wrapping it in a blanket and laying it in the driveway so his spouse couldn't help but spot the carnage, testified in his own defense Thursday in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Erick Wayne Brush recoiled when a prosecutor showed him a picture of the beloved pet, Coco the pit bull, and became teary-eyed when he talked about discovering that the dog was dead.
He said Coco must have been hit by one of the milk trucks that come and go from a dairy near his former home on Riverview Road in Hickman. He said the truck must have ripped the hide off the animal, adding that he did not believe the dog's ears had been cut off, as the authorities contend.
"It had been smashed," said Brush, 39, who now lives with his wife in Oregon.
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Brush -- who is charged with animal cruelty, making a criminal threat and possessing methamphetamine -- told the court that he and his wife attended counseling and patched things up.
He said he was angry with his wife because she left him to go party with her friends, but still wrapped the dead dog and left it in the driveway so she could say goodbye before they gave Coco a proper burial.
"I put it out there where she could just come up and look," Brush said.
Tammy Brush testified in her husband's defense during a three-day trial, but a prosecutor argued that a panicked call she made to 911 at 7:41 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2005 -- about 12 hours after a family friend discovered the dead dog -- is more reliable.
She said she believed her husband had killed four dogs and relayed secondhand information she got from friends to the authorities. She said her husband threatened to hunt her down and kill her, too, because she had moved out a few days earlier, taking their two daughters with her.
"I don't want to do this. I have let him beat me for years and I ain't done nothing to nobody," Tammy Brush told a 911 operator, according to a tape of the call that was played for the jury.
Sheriff's deputies went to the Brush home and found one dead dog and one gram of methamphetamine on top of a refrigerator. Erick Brush told the authorities he had used crank the night before. Animal control officers confiscated 10 other dogs. Two black Labradors were never accounted for.
No one saw Coco die, but the dog had bullet holes in her hide, a lengthy incision on her belly and cuts on her paws and hind quarters.
In his closing argument, a prosecutor told the jury that the dog's brutal death is the act of an enraged bully who was losing control of his family. He urged the jury to convict Erick Brush of all three felonies. Deliberations begin today.
'He was going to make her pay'
"She left, finally, and he was going to make her pay," Deputy District Attorney John Baker said, noting that the dog had been wrapped in a quilt Tammy Brush made for her husband.
Defense attorney Preciliano Martinez said the government's case is based on rumor and innuendo because Tammy Brush, who told the jury that she owned the methamphetamine found in the Brush home, lied to police during a rocky period in her marriage.
He said deputies concluded that Coco had been shot because they found a shotgun in the Brush home, but never retrieved any bullets to make a comparison. He said the dog's death was an accident.
"The dog was not shot," Martinez said. "The dog was run over."
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2338.