After nearly a year of campaigning, investigating and pleading, it appears a family’s pursuit to find “Justice for Hank” may be coming to a close.
On March 21, a North Idaho jury found Austin Matott guilty on two separate counts of cruelty to animals and harassment of an animal after he was charged with beating an 11-month-old Corgi and Red Heeler mix named Hank to death last July. Each count comes with a maximum sentence of six months, or one year behind bars if sentenced consecutively.
“It’s a relief,” said Jennifer Cook, the mother of the dog’s owner. “It’s the sense that he didn’t get away with it. It wasn’t all for nothing. That he will be held accountable for what he did.”
The verdict comes after a monthslong campaign between Dakota Goin, the dog’s owner, and Cook, who began pushing last year for Idaho lawmakers to consider amending animal cruelty laws to include harsher punishments.
Had this offense occurred in Washington, Matott would have been most likely charged with a felony. But under Idaho state law, most instances of animal cruelty are misdemeanor offenses, unless they include a specific set of circumstances, like poisoning or sexual assault of an animal.
The pair also created the “Justice for Hank” Facebook page and have been publishing regular updates.
Cook and Goin, who testified in trial on behalf of the state, say they plan to continue the work they’ve already started, which included hiring a lawyer and sending letters to lawmakers.
In the months since, they said state Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Idaho, has agreed to sponsor a bill they helped draft.
“We want at least something good to come from this,” 19-year-old Goin said. “Something positive.”
Goin owned Hank for almost a year before he was killed on July 24. According to a necropsy report completed by a veterinarian at Washington State University, Hank suffered multiple bruises, rib fractures, punctured lungs and internal bleeding after he was left in the care of Matott at their Hauser, Idaho, home while Goin was at a baseball game in Spokane Valley.
Matott told Goin and her boyfriend that Hank sustained the injuries after jumping off a 37-inch porch while playing fetch. Goin and Cook said he told the same story while testifying at trial.
As part of the investigation, which began only because Cook refused to believe Matott’s account, deputies at the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office also discovered blood throughout the house, including in the bathroom and on shampoo bottles.
When the guilty verdict was read aloud, Goin said she had conflicting feelings. On one hand, a jury validated what she always believed: that Matott was guilty. But she also said Matott was her friend, and she hoped in the future he could get help for what she perceived to be anger issues.
“He lived with us,” she said. “He was our friend before all of this happened. It’s kind of sad to know a friend could do this.”
Before sentencing, a judge ordered Matott to undergo a psychological evaluation. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for June.
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