May 1, 2007

Grand Jury Set to Weigh Evidence in Atkind Case

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The animal abuse case of Alexander Atkind ’06 is set to move forward today when Tompkins County District Attorney Gwen Wilkinson presents evidence to a grand jury. The grand jury will then decide whether Atkind’s case merits a felony charge.
“It is my opinion that we have sufficient evidence to present to the grand jury for them to make a solid determination of whether a felony charge should be voted,” Wilkinson said.
Atkind, a fifth-year student at Cornell, allegedly beat and poured bleach on Princess, a Labrador-pit bull mix, while he was watching her for the dog’s owner. When the owner returned, he reported the incident to the Ithaca Police.
The responding officer said he found a one to two inch laceration that had exposed the dog’s skull and bleach spilled in the kennel area. The officer brought Princess to Cornell’s veterinary hospital for treatment, where the veterinarian found chemical burns to its face, eyes, back, paws and groin area
Currently Atkind is charged with overdriving, torturing and injuring an animal, a Class A misdemeanor, but the grand jury could find that the case merits the charge of aggravated cruelty to animals, a Class E felony. Atkind would face up to two years in a county jail if charged and subsequently convicted of the felony, up to one year if charged and convicted of the misdemeanor.
The grand jury is an investigative body made up of 23 people. The juror’s identities are kept secret in an attempt to keep them free of outside pressures, and the presentation is closed to the public to protect sensitive information about the accused. The jury will only determine whether there appears to be sufficient evidence to merit a felony charge.
“[The jurors] are not concerned about guilt or innocence,” Wilkinson explained.
After the presentation, it will be at least a week before the jury responds. If the jury finds it necessary, it has the power to demand more information or evidence which will delay any determination.
Wilkinson said that there is some confusion about the possible sentences because this case does not fall under penal law but rather agriculture and markets law.
“He can’t be sent to State prison,” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson stressed that this case is only at the accusation phase of the judicial process and that Atkind is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
Atkind also faces a Class B felony charge in Tioga County for third-degree possession of a controlled substance after being found with hallucinogenic mushrooms during a separate incident. If convicted, the Class B felony carries a maximum sentence of nine years in prison.
When asked about Atkind, Blaine Freelander, assistant director of Cornell press relations, said that Cornell cannot comment on active cases.

For more information about this case, click here.