UTICA (WXYZ) — Alexander Gerth appeared in court Thursday to be arraigned on a felony charge of killing and torturing an animal. The 22-year-old Utica man is accused of stabbing and killing his dog, Sterling.
The pit bull mix was adopted from the Michigan Humane Society (MHS) in Westland in December. Gerth tried to adopt the dog but his application was denied because his landlord did not approve.
Then a couple days later, someone else went to the shelter and they were also very interested in the same dog. That person was approved and allowed to take Sterling home.
However, what an MHS investigator says they could not have known is that the person was adopting Sterling under false pretenses. That person knew Gerth and turned the 2-year-old pit bull mix over to him. Investigators said Gerth convinced a friend to adopt Sterling for him.
Gerth reportedly admitted to hitting and punching Sterling on numerous occasions in the short time that Sterling lived with him, stating he used the physical abuse as a means of discipline.
When Gerth took Sterling home in late December and it didn't take long for his roommate to realize Sterling was not in good hands.
"I have seen him hit the dog. He would smack him and grab him by the neck and drag him in the bedroom," Dave Kriner told 7 Action News.
Kriner was only a roommate and not the friend involved in the adoption.
Kriner said he was afraid to say anything because he didn't want Gerth to kick him out of the apartment and he had nowhere else to live.
Kriner's girlfriend said she tried contacting the Macomb County Humane Society and was told they'd look into it but that they also needed proof. The head of Macomb County Animal Control says they've examined several months of call logs and they tell us that they have never received a call to investigate abuse of Sterling.
On January 20, Kriner's girlfriend took pictures of what appeared to be cigarette burns on Sterling's face, but she hadn't turned the pictures over to authorities.
When Kriner returned home the night of January 24th, he didn't see Sterling. Kriner said Sterling's dog bowls were missing and his chew toys were in the trash.
Kriner said he asked Gerth where Sterling was and Gerth told him not to worry and that he had gone to a good home.
But that was the day that a city worker found Sterling's body under a picnic table in Grant Park behind the apartment building where Gerth lives.
There was a trail of blood from a nearby trash can to where Sterling's body was found in freezing temperatures. It's unclear if Sterling was alive and put into the trash can and was able to get out and walk to where he later died.
Kriner's girlfriend told him about Sterling's death after her daughter saw the case in the news earlier this week.
Kriner told 7 Action News that he went to police and told them everything he knows.
"Unfortunately, I waited," said Kriner who, in hindsight, wishes he had another place to live and could have just picked up Sterling and walked out of Gerth's apartment.
"If at all possible, report it as soon as you can so this kind of stuff doesn't happen," Kriner said.
During Gerth's arraignment Thursday, Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Elizabeth Rittinger asked the judge to set bond at $500,000, saying Gerth has been convicted of bank robbery. The judge set bond at $25,000 cash or surety.
Gerth acknowledged that he's on federal probation. He asked for a court-appointed defense attorney in the case that, if convicted, could send him to prison for up to four years.
“Rest assured that there will be no plea bargaining in the case. We have charged Gerth with most severe charge on the books; and, we will be asking for the maximum possible sentence provided under the law,” Macomb County Prosecutor Eric Smith said. “There is no doubt that there needs to be tougher laws addressing animal abuse.”