After calling his criminal history "concerning, if not frightening", a judge sentenced 26-year-old Michael Berst to prison Wednesday.Berst was convicted of intentional cruelty to animals and tampering with evidence after authorities say he beat his family's pit bull puppy to death with a hammer and threw the body in a dumpster last April.
He pled no contest to the charges.
Berst's lawyer told Judge William Wright that her client is a slave to drugs. Attorney Vicky Kenney said that Berst grew up on a farm and had seen animals be euthanized with a single blow to the head. That was his intent, according to Kenney, after the dog had not only made a mess on the kitchen floor but also had been biting his young children. She told the judge Berst was worried about the animal causing greater harm to his daughters who already had scars from the puppy's nips. Kenney said Berst is not a violent man.
"I don't want to down play the seriousness of this case, but it's a dog," said Kenney in court.But Deputy Hall County Attorney Nancy Berger-Schneider called the act "vile, cruel and the very definition of inhumane treatment."
She told Judge Wright that Berst is violent and is at a high risk to reoffend. Berger-Schneider said the Grand Island man has had six different criminal cases since April, while on probation.
Before sentencing, Berst read a prepared apology from a piece of paper.
"Meth destroyed my life," he said. Berst told the judge that the killing of his dog flashes before him everyday. "No one can bring me back my dog."
He asked for treatment for his addiction to drugs.
"To all who I have harmed, I am sorry," he said. "Please don't put me in a cage and forget about me, give me the chance to show you I'm worth while."
"You did not euthanize that dog," said Judge Wright. "You were simply angry, and you botched it."
"What you did, in my opinion, whether under the influence of drugs or not is depraved," he said.
Judge Wright sentenced Berst to 20 to 60 months in prison on both charges, to be served concurrently.
He was also sentenced to 30 to 60 months for a separate burglary charge. That sentence will be served consecutively.
Berst was also ordered to pay $989.17 in restitution for both cases. The Central Nebraska Humane Society with collect $150.
Wright also referenced Nebraska's Good Time law, saying that Berst would likely serve about half of his sentence.
"It's the game the legislature plays with sentences," he said.