Monday, March 01, 2021

Palafox sentenced to 10 years behind bars in animal cruelty case

Editor | February 12, 2021 7:00 AM

Describing the level of violence suggested by the crimes committed by Domingo J. Palafox as both frightful and unique for Lincoln County, District Judge Matthew Cuffe sentenced the Troy man to 10 years in state prison.

Cuffe handed down the sentence on Feb. 8, bringing to an end a nearly year long search for justice after a badly abused Alaskan malamute was found wandering near Troy in March.

Palafox, arrested after residents raised a reward for help in finding the dog’s attacker, pleaded guilty to aggravated animal cruelty last year. He was found guilty of two counts of tampering with a witness following a bench trial in December.

For the first count of tampering, Palafox received a 10-year sentence. He received a suspended 10-year sentence for the second count. For aggravated animal abuse, Palafox earned two years with the state Department of Corrections. The sentences were to run consecutively.

In all, he will spend 10 years with the Montana State Prison and another 12 under supervision with credit for time served.

During the Feb. 8 sentencing hearing, Cuffe lamented the limitations imposed on him by state statute. The degree of violence — both real and threatened — in Palafox’s actions stood out, he said.

“[L]ong term supervision is required for community safety,” Cuffe said.

Public interest in the investigation spiked in the summer after a mix of Troy and Libby residents held a march to highlight the animal abuse case and advertise a reward for information leading to an arrest. Rescuers initially thought the dog — renamed Percy — suffered from frostbite. Upon further inspection, they realized the animal likely had been doused in an igniter and lit ablaze.

While residents in the small community quickly suspected Palafox of the crime, investigators in Troy needed evidence. That came to light after Palafox threatened two brothers, one of which had seen a video Palafox made of the incident, court documents said. Palafox threatened to take a $10,000 hit on the two men if they spoke to authorities about the recording, court documents said.

In asking for a lessened sentence, defense attorney Scott B. Johnson said that Palafox injured the dog only after it bit one of his children. Palafox, Johnson said, recognized that his response was inappropriate.

“My client took responsibility for as far as what shocks the conscious,” Johnson said.

As for later threatening witnesses against cooperating with authorities investigating the animal abuse, Johnson deemed it a “general threat.” Palafox did not threaten anyone with a weapon, he argued.

Palafox, too, expressed contrition during the Feb. 8 hearing. He told the court that he erred.

“I screwed up. I regret it. Not just because I’m in here,” Palafox said via a video feed from the Lincoln County Detention Center. “I apologize to everyone involved. We all make mistakes.”

But Cuffe suggested that Palafox’s explanation for the incidents and contrition defied belief.

“… Even if we take it at face value from Mr. Palafox … that is a frightening concept for the court to accept, that this was a reasonable response,” Cuffe said.

Cuffe said that one of the men threatened, a lifelong friend of Palafox, remained in fear for his safety. To respond to the thought that someone might turn him in to authorities with a death threat was nearly unimaginable, Cuffe said.

“That level of reaction is a threat to our community,” he said.

Percy, rehabilitated by local organization Pet Connection Rescue Advocacy and Sanctuary, has since moved to Canada with a new owner. Supporters occasionally post photos of the happy-looking malamute on social media.

Cuffe said he sought to find a way to keep Palafox from owning another animal, which played into his running the sentences consecutively rather than concurrently. That will keep Palafox on a tight leash.

“I don’t think Mr. Palafox should own animals. Well, the only way I can do that is to make the sentence as long as possible,” Cuffe told the courtroom.

But he reiterated that Palafox’s behavior and his response to the investigation were deeply troubling.

“Again, I think this is a community safety [issue],” Cuffe said. “The violence, the conduct, is almost unfathomable.”