MARIETTA — Justin Michael Crandall was home alone looking after his partner’s pet dog when he poured boiling water from an electric kettle onto the animal’s back and sides, causing severe burns and loss of skin and fur.
Crandall, 20, of Marietta, pleaded guilty last Wednesday morning to a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals in relation to the incident that took place in what was his home on East Lake Drive in Marietta on June 23, 2018.
Crandall was sentenced to prison for four years, spend a fifth year on probation and ordered to pay over $1,000 in restitution by Cobb County Superior Court Judge Robert Leonard.
Anastasia, a brown and white, female, mixed-breed dog, is still alive but has never been the same since, her owner and Crandall’s former partner, Noah Alexander, testified in court Wednesday during the sentencing.
Anastasia is traumatized and anxious, doesn’t respond to people the same way and barked incessantly at the kettle until it was removed from the kitchen after the incident, Alexander said, adding that she’s on medication as a result.
“I can see the difference in her, it’s not just something that’s physical,” Alexander testified. “She has anxiety and certain things trigger her. She knows when water’s boiling.”
Alexander said he wanted Crandall to be held accountable for causing so much pain and suffering, although he couldn’t say “what that looks like” in regards to an appropriate sentence.
“She’s not a vicious dog, she’s not mean, she’s not aggressive, she’s never been,” he said. “I understand that people make mistakes in certain situations, however, unfortunately, she’s not here to talk for herself, she can’t explain.”
Senior Assistant District Attorney Lindsay Gardner detailed the crime in court, saying Crandall became agitated with Anastasia when she urinated on the floor.
Alexander was at work that day, Gardner said, when his dog suffered first and second degree burns.
Crandall tried to “shift the blame,” telling Alexander he’d taken Anastasia to the dog park where she was injured in an attack by another dog, Gardner said.
“He finally admitted that he poured the hot water from the electric kettle,” she said, adding that Anastasia was taken to Alexander’s grandparents’ home for care and protection.
It wasn’t until July 11, almost three weeks after the incident, that police were called, Gardner said, handing the judge photographs that police officers took of Anastasia’s injuries that day, as well as more recent photographs showing her permanent disfigurement.
Crandall was initially arrested and booked into the Cobb County jail on July 24, subject to a $7,500 bond.
He is now back behind bars, having been taken immediately into custody after his sentencing.
Defense attorney Jim Michael highlighted Crandall’s difficult upbringing and mental health issues as a possible explanation for his actions.
Michael said Crandall regretted what he did to Anastasia, and ultimately hopes to become a nurse so he can help others.
“Justin from the beginning expressed great remorse for his behavior and always approached this from a standpoint of ‘I have done something horrible, what can I do to show everyone that I’m not actually that person, I’m a good person, I’m looking to the future to show everyone that I can change that behavior and I can also show that I have real value in the community,’” Michael said.
He said Crandall was bitten by Anastasia when he burned her, and the bite wound on his hand became infected after he failed to seek treatment.
“Justin at that point was effectively as low as he could be,” Michael said, adding that Crandall has since been diagnosed with a “serious debilitating disease,” which all parties in the case were made aware of, off the record, prior to sentencing, and for which Crandall is on “antiretroviral” medication.
Michael submitted this meant Crandall should not be sentenced to imprisonment.
“He’s healthy at the moment but his doctor has explained that a change in medication or circumstances like adding additional stressors to his environment could significantly impact his ongoing care,” Michael said. “Obviously jail time would fit that description.”
Crandall’s parents created a violent and abusive environment for him to grow up in, before essentially abandoning him after a messy divorce, Michael said.
Subsequently, Crandall was a teenager struggling to come to terms with his sexuality while dealing with the breakup of his family and being bullied at school.
He met Alexander and they eventually moved in together. The couple was together about four years.
During this time, Alexander helped work through issues with Crandall, who didn’t have contact with his parents until his arrest.
Crandall’s father, Michael Crandall, was in court for his son’s sentencing Wednesday and explained that the incident had, strangely, brought them back together. He too pleaded for a sentence outside of jail, saying “I can proudly say that Justin has come a long way.”
But in rebuttal, Alexander told the judge a past experience or issue is no excuse for breaking the law.
“At the end of the day there’s people that have gone through much worse things and didn’t do anything wrong,” he said.
Judge Leonard agreed, expressing frustration at the maximum possible sentence of five years imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $15,000.
“I wish the legislation would treat this crime like it needs to be. Five years isn’t much to work with,” Leonard said.
The judge did not afford Crandall much sympathy.
“This isn’t about your mental condition, this isn’t about your tough upbringing, this isn’t about your parents’ divorce, this isn’t about your depression,” Leonard said. “I’ve got a whole docket full of people who are all dealing with those same problems and none of them did something like this to an innocent animal except you. So what this tells me is it’s about your character and this needs to be dealt with.”
Once released from jail, Crandall is not allowed to own animals or volunteer or work with animals.
Gardner, on behalf of the state, had sought a sentence of two years in jail followed by three years on probation, as well as restitution of $1,161.42.
The restitution was granted by Judge Leonard, who ordered the money to be paid in full by Crandall within six days.
Leonard also granted Crandall’s request to be sentenced under Georgia’s First Time Offenders Act, which allows those eligible to have their convictions sealed from public view if they don’t commit a new crime while successfully completing all terms of their sentence.
That means if Crandall stays on the straight and narrow, he can lead a life without a criminal conviction weighing him down post-sentence.