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Former resident convicted of felony animal torture under Cooney’s Law

A jury convicted the man charged with two felony counts of torturing and abandoning his animals in a case dating back more than two years.

The case marked the first conviction under "Cooney's Law," which makes certain crimes against animals a felony.

George Papania, now a Las Vegas resident, was at one time a licensed Italian Greyhound breeder. He is scheduled for sentencing in January.

Papania's trail was followed closely by Gina Greisen, president of Nevada Voters For Animals.

"This is actually the first trial that I am aware of under Cooney's law where the defendant was convicted by a jury trial," she said. "All of the cases that we are aware of, have been plea bargained out. This is the first time we have actually seen a case where the evidence was presented to the jury and they came back and decided guilt or innocence. In this case, he was found guilty."

It took jurors roughly two hours to reach a decision to convict Papania under the guidelines of "Cooney's Law," where a person who "willfully and maliciously" tortures or unjustifiably mutilates or kills an animal kept for companionship or pleasure, will face a category D felony, or a category C felony if the act is done in order to threaten, intimidate or terrorize another person.

The law also allows for the confidential reporting of suspected animal abuse.

Following the verdict, Nye County Deputy District Attorney Daniel Young said Papania could face prison time.

"Each one of those counts, under the Cooney law, which was written in 2011, is a category D felony and it carries a penalty of a maximum of four years per count," he said. "In theory, he could be looking at eight years if the judge really wanted to put the hammer on him. I believe the jury deliberated for approximately two and a half hours or so, before they reached a verdict."

During testimony, Young told the courtroom Papania was a local resident at the time of the crime, while noting the defendant moved to Las Vegas, and left the dogs to fend for themselves in Pahrump.

He also said at least one of the dogs did not recover from the ordeal, citing the lack of food and water.

"The allegations and findings that were made by the jury was that the two dogs didn't have proper food or water and as a result, one of the animals died," he said. "At some point during the time, the other animal somehow broke its leg and there was no medical care or treatment that was provided by the defendant in this case."

Young also said it's uncertain exactly how long the dogs were left with no proper care.

"We could not nail down the exact time frame from when he left Pahrump and moved to Las Vegas," he said. "The quote unquote landlord, or the owner of the property, saw them the first time in early January. Ultimately, animal control took possession of those dogs on January 29th of 2013."

Greisen also disputed the claim that Papania made regular visits to Pahrump to tend to the dogs.

"He claimed that he came out every two days, to feed and water the dogs and his defense attorney talked a lot about how they were breeding dogs and they were very expensive," she said. "I began thinking to myself, if he loved them so much, and they were so valuable, why the hell did he leave them outside in the middle of winter in Pahrump. These are very small dogs with very short hair and they don't have a lot to them."

Regarding the guilty verdict, Greisen said it may create more awareness and much-needed support for animal rights in Nye County and beyond.

"As an animal advocate, we do hope that this does send a strong message," she said. "When we walked out of the courtroom, we understood that the judge could possibly give him probation, which we feel would be totally unfair. He never admitted to what he did though and it was everyone else's fault but his. These dogs, in my opinion, were nothing but a paycheck for him."

Additionally, Greisen said the Papania verdict and a recent animal abuse case in Reno last month are promising signs that the criminal justice system is finally taking such cases seriously.

Jason Brown, a 25-year-old former high school student president and psychology major, was sentenced to 28 years in prison following his conviction of torturing, dismembering and killing seven dogs last year at two Reno-area hotel and motel rooms.

Brown pleaded no contest to the seven counts of animal torture, while claiming he had no recollection of his actions, due to what he claimed was a longtime drug addiction.

Washoe County District Judge Elliot Sattler sentenced Brown to a maximum of 48 months per count to be served consecutively.

"I think the case regarding Jason Brown and this most recent case in Pahrump will raise more awareness about animal rights in Pahrump," Greisen said. "We hope that it sends a very strong message. Obviously everyone here did a really good job including the district attorney's office and prosecutor Daniel Young, who made a very impressive closing argument."

Prior to "Cooney's Law," Nevada was the only state in the country where someone could torture an animal to death on three separate occasions before they would face a felony animal cruelty charge.

The Silver State is the 43rd state to provide for first-offense felony penalties, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @sharrispvt.

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