Alaska News

Man charged with animal cruelty, witness tampering

An Anchorage man accused of beating his dog with a rifle and shattering its teeth has been indicted on charges that he tried to cover up the crime, according to the Anchorage district attorney.

Robert Mark McGowan, 50, is charged with two counts of first-degree witness tampering and one count of tampering with evidence, both felonies, in connection with a case from February, prosecutors said. The original charge was cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor for which prosecutors say they plan to seek the maximum penalty.

"The state looks forward to going to trial," Assistant District Attorney Joan Wilson said. "This level of violence inflicted against an animal, combined with the defendant's conviction history, warrants worst-case offender status."

According to court records, McGowan had been out at a bar celebrating a victory on two domestic violence assault charges that had been reduced when he returned home early the morning of Feb. 11.

He was intoxicated when he opened the bedroom door and found that his 2-year-old Rottweiler mix, Harley, had pooped on the carpet, the court papers say. McGowan was further enraged after Harley began barking at a passer-by. McGowan grabbed a muzzle-loading rifle and took Harley to the bathroom, the papers say.

"Over a ten to fifteen minute period, McGowan proceeded to stab Harley numerous times (with a sharp edge of the rifle barrel) and plow the steel barrel into the dog's mouth over and over again," the papers say.

McGowan's roommate later told investigators he heard McGowan scream, "I'm gonna kill this thing!" He told authorities the dog was "yelping and screaming" and that he had never heard such a sound from an animal, the papers say.

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After Harley was let out, the roommate said, he went into the bathroom and saw blood on the floor, ceiling and walls, the papers say: "Bloody footsteps also marred the living room."

McGowan spent most of the night cleaning the place, trying to conceal his crime, according to the court papers. But a neighbor had called police.

Harley required two surgeries, one of which removed half his teeth.

"Every tooth that was taken had been shattered to some degree," Wilson said. "He has no teeth on the right side of his mouth. In fact, his tongue hangs out because he's got nothing to hold it in on that side."

If convicted, McGowan faces a presumptive sentence of three to five years on each of the felony counts. He also faces up to a year in prison on the animal cruelty charge and a 10-year ban on animal ownership. He also could be required to pay Harley's medical bills.

"In my opinion, this is a classic case of why there needs to be a felony-level, first-offense animal cruelty law," said Anchorage police Det. Jackie Conn, who investigates animal cruelty cases.

McGowan's lawyer, James Ferguson, said he did not want to discuss the case.

According to court records, McGowan has a history of nearly 30 criminal convictions on charges including assault, domestic violence violations, damaging property and resisting arrest.

He was being held at the Cordova Center pending an arraignment set for Monday, according to the Department of Corrections. His trial on the cruelty charge is set for July 27.

Harley, meanwhile, has been taken into protective custody by the city.

"He will definitely not be euthanized," Wilson said. "I think he will eventually be adopted, but he will need some therapeutic care."

Find James Halpin online at adn.com/contact/jhalpin or call him at 257-4589.

By JAMES HALPIN

jhalpin@adn.com

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