UTICA, Mich. (FOX 2) - A man who pleaded no contest in the stabbing death of a dog who was left to die under a picnic table in January was sentenced to 3 to 6 years in prison Tuesday.
At the start of the setencing, Macomb County Judge Richard Caretti announced right off the bat that he could not "in good conscious" follow the sentencing agreement, implying a harsher sentence would be handed down. Several animal rescuers and rights activists in the courtroom burst into applause before the judge continued with the sentencing.
Alexander Gerth pleaded no contest to the charge of killing/torturing an animal in the death of the dog, Sterling, who was found violently killed on January 24, 2019. Sterling was stabbed multiple times and left to slowly die underneath a picnic table at Grant Park in Utica in freezing cold temperatures. Officials said there was a trail of blood from a nearby trash can to where he was found dead.
Authorities say Gerth originally applied to adopt Sterling from the Michigan Humane Society but was denied because of his living situation. Gerth then convinced a friend to adopt the dog, and then moved the dog into his apartment.
The friend, a former roommate, told investigators that Gerth had once bragged to him about punching Sterling so hard that the dog urinated and defacated "all over the place." When the judge repeated this evidence to the courtroom, many could be heard crying at the devastating details.
A representative from the Michigan Humane Society, Amy Tunney, spoke on behalf of Sterling.
"The senseless, calculated and malicious actions of Mr. Gerth are beyond comprehension. His actions did not affect just one person or one animal. It affected our community, the animal welfare community as a whole. It left me wondering what my role was in animal welfare, if I couldn't trust the people who adopted our animals," she said.
She added that Sterling's death "will haunt us."
Before sentencing continued, Judge Caretti took the time to call out a social media post from an animal rights advocate group.
He read quotes from a Macomb Community Watch Dogs Facebook post, such as, "The monster pled guilty to the crime." "This POS judge agreed" [to a reduced sentence].
"I'm not very familiar with social media. What does "POS" stand for? I thought it meant "positively outstanding sentencing" judge," he said dryly to a representative from the group who was in court. He then said that's borderline on contemptuous speech and advised the group from authoring any further posts of that nature.
The hearing continued with Gerth's defense attorney telling the court Gerth has accepted full responsibility and then offered some insight to his behavior. She explained he was incarcerated with violent offenders when he was a minor and therefore learned to handle situations "very differently than the rest of us."
"I don't think Alex or I would dispute the fact that he has issues with impulse control," she said. She added that he's going to be a father soon and that he wants to be better for his family.
Gerth himself also asked the judge for some sort of class as part of his sentencing that would provide him with "the knowledge needed to lead me in the direction of rational and acceptable decision-making skills."
"Looking back I realize there were better ways of handling this situation," Gerth said to the judge. "Respectfully, I want people to know and understand that I did not do this with some kind of sick, twisted, premeditated motive, as which was said before. If I could go back and do this differently I would."
He ended with an apology to the community, to his family and to Sterling.
Judge Caretti called the crime "dispicable" and "reprehensible."
Gerth was not subject to the new legislation that increased penalties on crimes against animals, which would have been a 10-year felony. The new sentencing guidelines go into effect for all crimes committed after March 28, 2019, and Sterling was killed in January.
Judge Caretti still went above the high end of the old sentencing guidelines, though, which was 4 years, and gave Gerth 3 to 6 years. Gerth was also ordered to pay the Michigan Humane Society back for Sterling's necropsy, a total of $223.90, and is never allowed to own a dog again. The judge did not mandate any type of class, as Gerth requested.
"In my almost 17 years on the bench your case is by far the worst, most deplorable example of animal cruelty I've ever seen," Judge Caretti said to Gerth. "Words are inadequate to express the depth and breadth of your cruelty.
"Statistics show [famous] killers ... started down their path to infamy by abusing and killing animals. Let's hope my sentence discourages you from such behavior," he continued. "But in your case [with the old animal cruelty sentencing legislation] - it may not be enough."