A former Forsyth County dog groomer has been convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals and sentenced to five years in prison for kicking and choking a dog to death in October 2017.
On Thursday morning, a jury convicted Michelle Louise Root, 44, of Hall County, for killing a dog named Meko. Root was acquitted of a second charge of aggravated animal cruelty for the death of another dog.
Root’s five-year sentence includes three years in prison and two years of probation. Root also faces fines, community service hours and restitution. Root is also prohibited from ever caring for or grooming any animal not owned by her and is prohibited from owning or living with animals during her two years of probation.
Little over an hour after the jury’s verdict was read, Root stood before judge David L. Dickinson in Forsyth County Superior Court to receive his sentencing and final comments in the case.
“Ma’am, you have been abusing animals for a long time, far too long,” Dickinson said. “It will now stop.”
Root was then escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.
Meko’s owner, Mavel Blanco, addressed the court before Root’s sentencing and stated that after such an emotional roller-coaster she was happy that Meko did not die in vain.
“Meko was a special part of my life and my son’s life,” Blanco said. “I can’t say that I’ll ever forget how it is that this happened. I trusted someone with my dog and my family member, and they killed them. I hope that this justice that was served today for Meko affects every other animal moving forward.”
After the verdict, Meko’s other owner, Eric Francis, told the FCN that he was happy with the outcome, even though Root was acquitted of one of her charges.
“Justice was served for Meko,” Francis said. “But we need to have stronger sentencing and online registration for animal abusers.”
Root, the former owner of Paw’sh Paws in Cumming, was arrested on Oct. 11 and 18, 2017, after it was reported to the Cumming Police Department that two dogs, Little Boy and Meko, died under her care.
Over the two days of trial, assistant district attorney Michael Mahoney and defense attorney Rafe Banks squared off over conflicting versions of what happened on Oct. 7, 2017 that ultimately lead to Meko’s death.
The state presented the case that based on factors including Root’s past history at PetSmart, where three former employees stated that they regularly saw her abusing animals; two eye witnesses who stated that they saw Root kick and choke Meko on Oct. 7, 2017; and the necropsy completed by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine that apparently uncovered damage to Meko’s legs, abdomen, head, shoulder, neck, brain, lungs and other body parts, it was certain that Root had a hand in killing the animal.
"The injuries on Meko line up exactly with what (witnesses) say," Mahoney said in his closing arguments to the jury. "That's why you should believe them and not the three others that testified today."
In arguments defending Root, Banks and his witnesses put forward the theory that Meko was not killed in a malicious attack but died in an accident at Paw’sh Paws after acting aggressively towards Root and another store employee.
"What you will find is, it was an accident,” Banks said. “Yes, it's tragic, and it's certainly unfortunate, but nobody intended for Meko to die."
Banks also attacked the testimony of the state’s key witnesses, calling into question the procedure of City of Cumming police officer Sgt. Erick Reynolds during the investigation and casting doubt on the statements of several former PetSmart employees.
"A minor point, but minor points start adding up," Banks said. "That's why I harped on the police department on what could have been done, should have been done, ought to have been done, but wasn't done. The information they could have provided to you, but haven't."
Several members of Root’s family, including her husband Chris Garrett, her mother, brother and a family friend spoke on her behalf on Thursday, but in the end Dickinson was unmoved, stating so to the court.
“You were in a position of trust as you undertook to open a business and holding yourself out as someone to take care of the animals of this community, and you breached that trust,” Dickinson said. “And while I accept your various family members who have come before the court this morning and their belief in you … the evidence belies their belief.”