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Not guilty in shooting death of dog

Not guilty in shooting death of dog

Editor's note: One name was incorrectly listed in the testimony of Mr. Leake in the print edition of this story; it has been corrected below.

Stanardsville neighbors Hannah Faris and Jeffrey Leake were back in court last week over the shooting of Faris’s dog, Shiloh. Faris was charged with “dog running at large,” a class 4 misdemeanor punishable by a fine up to $250. Leake was charged with two counts of reckless handling of a firearm, a class 1 misdemeanor carrying a potential fine plus up to a year in jail on each offense. After hearing from nine witnesses and reviewing photographic and video evidence, both parties avoided conviction.

While Hon. Claiborne H. Stokes Jr., chief judge of the 16th Judicial District of Virginia, said it was “obvious” that Leake shot the dog, the question was whether discharging the weapon amounted to reckless handing of the firearm because it was in a subdivision and with children nearby.

On the afternoon of June 13, Faris and various members of her family were outside her home and the children were playing with Shiloh, a German shepherd, in the front yard. As shown on the video from the front porch camera, Shiloh is chasing a ball thrown by two children and at one point goes out of frame around the side of the house. Approximately 30 second later, two gunshots are heard and the dog later comes back into frame, bleeding profusely and falling over on the porch as chaos ensues.

Shiloh died later that day.

Because of the linked nature of the charges, both cases were seen at the same time before Judge Stokes, who presided over Greene County General District Court on the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 6. After discussion between Commonwealth’s Attorney Edwin Consolvo and the attorneys for both parties, the commonwealth moved to nolle prosequi (drop) the charge against Faris. In the case against Leake, Judge Stokes recommended that they consider the case as a single charge, since both shots were part of the same incident.

Consolvo called five witnesses for the prosecution: four members of Faris’s family who were present on the day of the incident and the officer who responded to the call.

Tommy Shifflett, who lives in the house next to the Leakes but was at his son’s house working on the deck when the incident occurred, recalled which family members were on the porch or in the yard with the dog at the time. He described the layout of the houses and the property lines and showed the judge the video from his front porch camera from that day.

“When everybody gets up off the porch and starts running, what was that in reaction to?” Judge Stokes asked, because the video did not have audio enabled.

“Two gun shots,” Shifflett responded.

Leake’s attorney, Bryan Jones, cross-examined Shifflett about the dog’s past behavior.

“Had that dog ever bit anybody before?” He asked.

“That dog has nipped at a few people but never seriously hurt no one,” Shifflett responded.

When asked whether Shiloh had attacked Leake’s dog a few months ago, Shifflett replied, “There’s no evidence; no sir.”

Lisa Shifflett recalled that she was also on the front porch at the time and that her 20-year-old special needs daughter and 19-month-old grandson were in the yard throwing a ball for Shiloh. The two kids and dog went around the side of the house and shortly afterwards she heard the gunshots.

“When I went around the corner, Shiloh met me and she was bleeding,” she recalled. She testified she saw Leake being pushed through his basement door by his wife.

Lisa Shifflett’s sister, Amanda Brown, also testified that the three children (including a 7-year-old) were playing ball with Shiloh when two of them followed the dog around the side of the house. After the shots, she found her 20-year-old niece shaking and the baby screaming and had to drag them both back inside the house.

“The 7-year-old asked me, ‘Are we going to get shot?’” Brown said, choking up with emotion.

Greene County Sheriff’s Deputy Danielle Hildebrand responded to the call that day and testified that Leake had admitted to shooting the dog.

“When we canvassed the area, I did see one (bullet) casing on the driveway, and later in the grass we found the other one,” Hildebrand said.

Hildebrand testified that Leake told the officer on the day of the incident that Shiloh came onto his property while he was grilling in the backyard. Leake said that Shiloh went after his daughter’s dog, at which point he got between them and kicked Shiloh. Not being deterred by the kick, Leake pulled his gun and shot the dog. After his second shot, Shiloh took off back through the tree line.

Jones called Jeffrey Leake’s daughter, Angela, as witness for the defense.

“The German shepherd had attacked us before, so I never took the dog out that side door alone,” she testified, explaining that she was on her way out to walk her dog when the incident occurred. “Shiloh came through the tree line, running towards me, my dog and my dad … my dad kicked the dog.” After the kick failed to deter Shiloh, her dad shot the dog twice, she said.

After several clarifying questions from Consolvo about which direction Jeffrey Leake was facing when he fired each of the two shots, Leake’s wife was also called to the stand.

“On Dec. 4, I was walking my daughter’s dog (when) Shiloh came bursting through the tree line and attacked my daughter’s dog,” Gayle Leake testified. After a brief tussle, Shiloh ran off but the smaller dog required medical attention.

According to court records, Faris was previously charged with dog running at large on Dec. 4, 2020, for which she waived the trial and paid a $25 fine plus court costs of $96.

On June 13, Gayle Leake recalled that her husband “kicked the dog as hard as he possibly could” but that Shiloh continued to be aggressive towards her daughter, at which point he discharged his firearm into the dog two times (once in the face and once in the abdomen).

“Was he facing towards the Shiffletts’ home (when he fired)?” Consolvo asked.

“Yes,” Gayle Leake responded.

First Sgt. Josh White with the Greene County Sheriff’s Office testified he spoke with both families after the incident. He reported finding the two shell casings as well as dog hair on the pavement and blood on the Shiffletts’ property as well as on their front porch. He entered many printed photographs of the blood and views of the property line into evidence to show that the blood was found approximately 10-15 feet from the corner of the Shiffletts’ house. One shell casing was found in the Leakes’ driveway and the second was in the pine needles near the tree line separating the two properties.

Jeffrey Leake, who said he has military training and a concealed weapon permit for his handgun, testified what happened when he encountered Shiloh that day.

“I was out back grilling (when) I heard Shiloh coming through the tree line, growling and barking,” Leake said. He stated that Shiloh was aggressive towards Tiller, his daughter’s Australian shepherd. When his daughter picked up her dog and stood back against the side of the house, he said he stepped between them and Shiloh, kicking Shiloh and then pulling out his gun.

“Were you aware of the prior incident?” Consolvo asked.

“That’s the reason why I put the cameras up and the reason why I carried the small pistol,” Leake responded.

“Why did you cut the cameras off?” Consolvo asked.

Leake responded that he was going in and out while tending the grill and got tired of the phone notifications going off every time he went past the cameras.

In closing, Consolvo noted that it seemed suspicious that the Leakes’ yard cameras just happened to be off in the one situation they were designed to capture and where they could have provided needed proof to the court.

“I just keep going back to that,” he said. “The cameras were turned off when he was outside, which was the exact purpose of those cameras.”

Consolvo also reminded the court that the evidence showed blood only on the Shiffletts’ property and none on Leake’s side of the property line, even though he shot the dog twice.

Jones countered that none of the Shiffletts saw what happened in the Leakes’ yard and asserted that the use of the firearm was justified according to Jeffrey Leake’s account of events.

Judge Stokes reviewed Tommy Shifflett’s video one more time before making his decision.

“Shiloh was shot,” Judge Stokes affirmed. “Obviously, Mr. Leake did it. After looking at the video, from the time the dog left the camera’s view … around 45 seconds (passed). In a minute, could this have happened? While I think you probably did it, Mr. Leake—and I do find it suspicious the cameras were turned off … there’s no evidence (of recklessness). The court finds you not guilty.”

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