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Evidence, details released in trial of former Forsyth County groomer
Michelle Louise Root, 42, of Hall County sits at the defense table alongside her legal representation in the Superior Court of Forsyth County on Tuesday. Root has been charged with two counts of aggravated cruelty to animals. - photo by Ben Hendren
A jury on Tuesday heard the first pieces of evidence in the trial of Michelle Louise Root, a former Forsyth County dog groomer who has been charged with two counts of animal cruelty.

Root, the former owner of Paw’sh Paws in Cumming, was arrested by Cumming police officers on Oct. 11 and 18, 2017, after it was reported to authorities that two dogs in her care died of what some have called suspicious circumstances. She later pled not guilty to two charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.  

On Tuesday, after the five women and nine men of the jury were charged and sworn by Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David L. Dickinson to evaluate the coming evidence and decide whether the prosecution reached its burden of proof, assistant district attorney Michael Mahoney began his opening arguments.

Assistant District Attorney Michael Mahoney gives his opening statement to a jury in the case of State of Georgia Vs. Michelle Root. - photo by Ben Hendren

"Trust. That is what allows us to take our dogs to a groomer. We trust that our dogs will be cared for, that they'll be treated with respect, that it will be safe. We trust that it won't be kicked savagely, we trust that it won't be brutalized, we trust that it won't be choked, we trust that it will be cared for,” Mahoney said to the jurors.

"This defendant was trusted to care for dogs, she was trusted to treat them with respect, she was trusted to keep her cool ... and she broke that trust." 

According to Mahoney, on Oct. 7, 2017, local resident Mavel Blanco brought her two dogs into Paw’sh Paws for grooming. Two former Paw’sh Paws employees, Lisa Riles and Heather Garner, told authorities that later that day they allegedly witnessed Root dragging one of Blanco’s dogs named Meko through the halls of the store, “slamming it into walls, kicking and choking the animal until it died.

"She got the dog out front, she put it on the table and she hung it too high for its paws, and the dog choked ladies and gentlemen, the dog choked to death," Mahoney said.

After Mahoney concluded his opening arguments, attorney for the defense Rafe Banks elected to hold off with his opening statements until the state rests it’s case sometime on Wednesday, leading the proceedings into witness testimony from the prosecution. 

Eric Francis, one of Meko’s co-owners, told the court that when he came to pick the dogs up from Paw’sh Paws on Oct. 7, 2017, Meko's lifeless body was being groomed at one of the tables. When he questioned why the dog was so unresponsive, he was told that "it had a seizure" or had suddenly gotten relaxed.

The dog was pronounced dead by Dr. John McGruder of Crestview Animal Hospital off of Pilgrim Mill Road and later examined during a necropsy by Doris M. Miller from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. 

Mahoney also called three former Petsmart employees to the stand who testified that between 2006 and 2008 they worked with Root as groomers, detailing several incidents where Root allegedly abused dogs under her care.

According to Julie Roloff, who worked with Root in the Petsmart grooming salon in 2006 and 2007, she reported abuse allegedly committed by Root to Petsmart management “at least 48 times.”

“They wouldn’t do anything,” Roloff said. “They had to catch her in the act.”

In total, Mahoney called 12 witnesses to the stand, including several local dog owners, two officers with the City of Cumming Police department, former Paw’sh Paws employees, former Petsmart employees and a local veterinarian. 

When the prosecution's two law enforcement witnesses, Sgt. Erick Reynolds and Officer Burrell Sullivan of the Cumming Police Department, were on the stand, Banks questioned both for several minutes about police procedure during the search warrant of the Paw’sh Paws business in Cumming and Root's Hall County residence, record keeping and several potential lines of inquiry that were apparently not investigated by their office. 

According to Reynolds, there was one employee that was allegedly at Paw’sh Paws during the Oct. 7 incident, who after a first informal conversation with officers was never found by the department for a formal statement about the alleged attack on Meko. 

Reynolds admitted that during that first conversation the employee's statement "entirely conflicted" with two other employees’ statements. 

"A statement of a witness in a case like this is something you have to keep up with, is that correct?" Banks stated to Sullivan later in the day.

"Yes sir, but at that time it was not given to us, nor was it considered a statement because of that," Sullivan replied.

Sullivan also explained to the court that due to the limited number of Cumming police officers and their not wanting to expand the investigation beyond what they could handle, they did not undergo a search for the employee in the county, investigate the past experiences of Paw’sh Paws clientele or evaluate Root's employment history at other pet grooming establishments.

"So you arrest somebody, you put them in jail, you criminally prosecute them, subject them to all the potential penalties and you can't ask the county to go help you interview a witness?" Banks asked.

"When I can't get hold of that witness, yes sir," Sullivan stated.

In addition to questioning the investigation by officers, Banks also honed in on several small discrepancies in the testimony of Riles and Garner. During cross-examination by Banks, Garner stated that due to where they were standing, neither actually saw Root “bounce Meko twice off a steel tub,” and she did not see Root “throw Meko on a table.”

After court adjourned for the day, Mahoney told the FCN that his last witness, Doris Miller of the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, would be called to the stand first thing on Wednesday morning.

"(Miller’s) going to tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that that dog was covered in bruises. That dog had trauma to its neck, trauma to its head, indicative of being abused," Mahoney said to the court.