July 24, 2013 Updated: July 25, 2013 at 7:24 am
A Colorado Springs man on trial in the apparent torture death of his roommates' 4-month-old cat was convicted Wednesday of aggravated animal cruelty.
Found guilty of shattering the cat's skull and inserting something in its rectum, 22-year-old Stephen Lee Alexander faces up to 3 years in prison - double the normal sentencing range for the crime, owing to the brutality of the attack.
He is scheduled for an Oct. 24 sentencing by 4th Judicial District Judge William B. Bain.
Wednesday's verdict capped a 2 + day trial in Colorado Springs in which jurors viewed graphic photos of the animal's blood-matted corpse.
"Just to know that another human being could do that to an animal, it kind of breaks your heart," said juror Jennifer Hoy of Colorado Springs. The five-man, seven-woman panel deliberated for roughly three hours before rejecting Alexander's claim that he inflicted the injuries by accident.
The cat - a black-and-white domestic shorthair named Phantom - belonged to an engaged couple who shared an apartment with Alexander at the Pinons complex off Airport Road on the city's east side. They were watching a movie on Jan. 25 when one of the owners ducked into Alexander's room and found blood and fecal matter on the wall - but no sign of Phantom.
The pet was later discovered in the bushes outside, blood caking its face and front paws and fecal matter staining its hind quarters.
An intoxicated Alexander claimed that he had accidentally stepped on the pet, and then let it outside without notifying anyone.
A veterinary pathologist, however, told jurors that Alexander's account couldn't explain the type and severity of the animal's injuries.
A necropsy found the cat's skull was "basically in pieces," and internal bleeding indicated that a "linear object" had been inserted in the cat's rectum, damaging its colon, according to E.J. Ehrhart, a veterinary pathologist with Colorado State University in Fort Collins.
Ehrhart said the object - which wasn't recovered by police - was roughly the diameter of a No. 2 pencil. Although investigators considered the injury was sexually motivated, Ehrhart said the injury couldn't have been caused by human genitals.
The cat wasn't the only one who suffered injuries.
After responding to a 911 call placed by the cat's owners, Colorado Springs police found Alexander semiconscious at the foot of a staircase outside the apartment.
In a daze, he told authorities he had fallen down the stairs and tumbled through a glass door, saying it was possible he was pushed. His attorney, Elvin Gentry, said one of the cat's owners beat the "daylights" out of him after the cat's body was found.
Alexander had been staying at the apartment for roughly a week. He moved in after losing his job at a fast-food burrito restaurant, according to testimony. Police photographs taken during the investigation showed he had scratch marks on his forearms.
Because of a prior misdemeanor conviction for public lewdness, Alexander must submit to a psychosexual evaluation before sentencing.
That raises the possibility he could be eligible for sex offender intensive supervised probation as part of his sentence.
While that determination is up to a judge, several members of the jury agreed that Alexander was in need of therapy, Hoy said after the trial.
"That was important to us," she said in a telephone interview. "Is there help for this guy? You want to kind of believe that there's always hope."