LA jury comes down hard on 'dog rage'

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If you're prone to road rage, remember not to grab the dog. That was the bitter lesson handed down to Andrew Burnett yesterday when he was found guilty of animal cruelty by a Californian court in a case that has delighted thousands of animal-lovers worldwide.

The jury deliberated for 40 minutes before deciding that Burnett, 27, an unemployed telephone engineer, had cold-bloodedly snatched Leo, a bichon frisé, from his owner's car and maliciously hurled him at an oncoming vehicle on a busy approach road outside San Jose airport.

After a trial of exceptional emotional intensity, Burnett could now face up to three years in prison. He will be sentenced in mid-July.

"It wasn't just a dog to me," Leo's owner, Sara McBurnett, said after the verdict. "For me it was my child. He killed my baby right in front of me."

On the fateful day in February last year, McBurnett briefly lost control of her car in the rain and gently knocked Burnett's back bumper. Burnett stormed out of his car to confront her, then ­ according to the prosecution ­ grabbed Leo and tossed him into the road. Defence lawyers suggested he only grabbed the dog because it had bitten him and did not toss so much as drop him.

Leo's death led to a massive publicity campaign, largely conducted over the internet, which led to an anonymous tip securing Burnett's arrest.