A month ago, Erick Wayne Brush choked back tears as he told a jury that his wife's favorite dog, Coco the pit bull, must have been run over by a milk truck.
Faced with the possibility of hard time in prison, the man who was found guilty of animal cruelty and two other felonies changed his tune.
He recently told a probation officer that he shot and killed Coco, skinned the animal, wrapped it in a blanket his wife made and laid it in their driveway, where she would be sure to find it, as authorities alleged during a three-day trial in Stanislaus County Superior Court.
Brush, 39, blamed a methamphetamine binge, and his wife asked the court for mercy, saying she wants her husband to come home. Judge Hurl Johnson sentenced Brush to 300 days in jail Friday morning, saying Brush must be held accountable, even if he patched things up at home.
"His actions are inexcusable," Johnson said.
The case began more than two years ago, when Tammy Brush placed a panicked call to 911, hours after a family friend told her the dog was dead. She relayed secondhand information from friends to the authorities, saying she believed her husband had killed four of their dogs and threatened her, too.
She had moved out of their home a few days earlier, taking 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 said when she called for help at 7:41 p.m. on Oct. 29, 2005, according to a 911 tape played during the trial.
Sheriff's deputies went to the Brush home on Riverview Road in Hickman, where they found one dead dog and one gram of methamphetamine on top of a refrigerator. Animal control officers confiscated 10 other dogs. Two black Labradors never were 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.
Drugs were hers, wife says
Tammy Brush testified in support of her husband, saying the drugs were hers. She also said she lied to the authorities during a rocky period in her marriage.
Twelve jurors said Erick Brush was guilty of animal cruelty, making a criminal threat and possessing methamphetamine. He has been in custody since the jury returned its verdict Oct. 19.
Deputy District Attorney John Baker said Erick Brush should be sent to prison, because he is a threat to his family, lied during his trial and persuaded his wife to lie, too. Baker recommended two years, eight months behind bars.
"The case is not just about a butchered and skinned dog, it's about oppression," Baker said.
Defense attorney Preciliano Martinez said his client reached a low point in his life because his mother had been murdered. He said Erick Brush sought counseling, goes to church and hasn't had any problems with the law in two years.
He recommended 180 days to 240 days in jail, and noted that Erick Brush has the support of the people who know him best, his wife and children.
"His wife surely did not want to have him prosecuted," Mar- tinez said.
In addition to 300 days behind bars, Erick Brush must serve three years' probation and attend counseling as directed. The judge said Brush's admission of guilt is a sign of remorse, even though it came late in the process.
"He's admitting what he did to the dog, finally," Johnson said.
Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2338.