FAIRMONT — There were audible sighs of frustration in the courtroom Wednesday when sentencing was continued for the man who is charged with abandoning a Yorkie named Winston and leaving him to die in Rivesville last year.
Supporters of the little dog, whose plight captivated the community, were upset that the sentencing did not take place for Justin Ryan Lancianese, 36, of Rivesville. Marion County Judge Patrick N. Wilson granted a continuance because the doctor who performed a psychological and substance abuse evaluation on Lancianese wasn’t present in court for questioning. He had not been subpoenaed, it was stated in court. Lancianese’s attorney, John Rogers, made the motion to continue the hearing in order to have the doctor, Edward Baker of Fremouw, Sigley & Baker, present to testify about the report.
Marion County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Dennis B. Kittle objected to the continuance.
“We object to it because we are ready to proceed today,” Kittle said after the court proceeding, when asked for comment. Although Judge Wilson said he was “not happy” about the situation, he granted the continuance, given the different positions of both the defense and the prosecution on what the sentencing should be and the importance of the court having all the information. Kittle said he understood the judge’s position.
“The court could have moved forward without consideration of the report; however, the judge feels, that to make a fair determination on incarceration or not, he needs to have all the information, which I understand,” Kittle said. The defense is pushing for probation while the prosecution is seeking incarceration for Lancianese, who could face a maximum of 1 to 5 years in a state correctional facility. Previously, Lancianese pleaded guilty to felony cruelty to animals in Marion County Circuit Court.
Wilson set a condition for the continuance that any witnesses have to be at the continued sentencing or be excluded.
According to the original criminal complaint, Lancianese took his Yorkie dog July 30, 2018 and placed it in a blue/red cooler bag, zipped up with a Twilight book and a CVS card inside, and tossed the dog near the Rivesville Power Plant, leaving him to die without food, water or shelter.
The complaint states that Marion County Animal Control officer T.J. Vanpelt said that a man found the dog, and brought the dog — later named Winston Johnson by his new adopted owner — to the Marion County Humane Society. Vanpelt said the dog’s hair was matted and he was in poor health, including being blind.
Originally, Lancianese had been charged with a misdemeanor. That charge was later dismissed so the state could charge him with a felony, which it did.
“I’m very upset,” Casey Johnson, Winston’s new owner, said. “They scheduled once, I got all of Winston’s friends to commit to attending, and then it was rescheduled for a time that I was going to be out of the country. The defense attorney had plenty of opportunity to make sure witnesses were informed.” Johnson said the only positive side for the continuance is that he will be back from vacation and be able to attend. “I’m positive Winston’s friends will return in bigger numbers when I’m in town to plan,” Johnson said. “We have to be the voice of the voiceless. Not many systems properly prosecute animal abuse, but I hope with this being a felony charge that he has already pleaded guilty to, the prosecutor and the judge will make a statement that this is unacceptable in Marion County.”
Six representatives of the Marion County Humane Society, along with other people from the community, showed up to support Winston in hopes that Lancianese would be sentenced Wednesday. In total, there were about 19 people in the courtroom watching the proceeding. There had been chatter among the spectators before things got under way, but when Lancianese walked up to take his seat in the courtroom, the room became quiet.
Winston’s supporters weren’t happy when the sentencing was continued.
“I’m not really happy that it’s getting extended any longer,” Frankie Spatafore, the manager of the Humane Society, said. “I think that we’ve dragged this out long enough. I think that we need to move forward with this, but we’ll be here next time, just like we were today.”
She said they are “frustrated, but not defeated.”
Humane Society Director Jonna Spatafore was also upset.
“I’m angry,” she said. “It’s been over a year. This stuff with getting the evaluation and not having someone there…well, if you would have done it 10 months ago…I just think, honestly, they’re just trying to keep it going and keep it going till less people show up…so that when he gets probation instead of incarceration, it’s going to be a little blip somewhere and not what it is now.”
She said Winston is doing well, but she is concerned about other dogs in the future. She hopes a precedent can be set.
“It’s the next dog we want this for or the next cat or the next Winston that is found is what we need this for,” she said.
She said that she had never seen Lancianese in person before, but once she realized it was him in the courtroom, she felt angry.
She was frustrated by the delay.
“This should have all been taken care of a long time ago. I think a year is more than enough to get ready for this. I think they should of had things ready.”
Three Winston supporters — Anne Renshaw of Fairview, Doris Robinson of Fairmont and Lesia Cerisano of Fairmont — waited outside the courtroom before things got underway.
Robinson, who has her own Yorkie and was wearing a shirt with a Yorkie image, said she hoped the judge gives Lancianese “the maximum he can give him” in punishment.
She said it broke her heart to hear what Winston went through.
“There were other places, other means, that the guy could have gone to without doing what he did to him,” she said.
According to Kittle, Lancianese is currently under bond supervision.
Lancianese did not make a statement during the proceeding.
Wednesday’s aborted hearing marked the second time sentencing had been continued for Lancianese. The first sentencing hearing was scheduled for Sept. 5.