Justin Chipman, left, and Franky the Pug. Credit: Composite image

A Steuben man found guilty in the shooting death of another man’s dog was sentenced Wednesday to serve a year behind bars.

Justin Chipman, 24, received an overall sentence of three years in prison with all but one year suspended. He also was ordered to serve one year of probation upon his release and to pay $100 in restitution.

Chipman, one of two men accused of killing a pug dog named Franky in August 2018, was found guilty of aggravated cruelty to animals at a bench trial in November. Justice Robert Murray also found Chipman guilty of one count of burglary, two counts of theft and one count of criminal mischief.

The other man — Nathan Burke, 38, of Hancock — has yet to be tried and, like Chipman, also has requested a trial in which a judge, rather than a jury, would decide whether he’s guilty. Burke remains in Hancock County Jail after he violated his bail more than once and missed two court dates before he was arrested again last weekend on a warrant.

A trial date for Burke has not been set.

Murray agreed to delay the start of Chipman’s sentence after Chipman’s defense attorney, Robert Van Horn, told the judge that they plan to file an appeal. Murray said that if Chipman does not file an appeal within the next couple of weeks, he must report to the Hancock County Jail to begin serving his sentence by Jan. 30.

Police say Chipman and Burke took Franky from Phil Torrey’s house while Torrey was out of state on Aug. 24, 2018, and went for a ride with the dog in Torrey’s Hummer, during which they shot the dog. The two men told police that the dog ran off during the joyride, and they never saw him again.

Both men had worked as sternmen on Phil Torrey’s lobster boat and had visited Torrey’s house in Winter Harbor many times before Franky vanished. The dog’s body was found about a week later on a Winter Harbor beach with a bullet hole in his throat.

Chipman and his attorney, Robert Van Horn, left the courthouse after the proceeding without speaking to the media.

Torrey told the judge during the sentencing that the killing of his dog had an impact on not just him and his family, but also on the tight-knit fishing community of Winter Harbor and neighboring towns. Franky’s death has been tough on his two kids and his niece, he said, and has resulted in fewer of their friends coming to his house to visit. Some people have stopped talking to each other because of their close ties to his family or to Chipman’s family, he added.

“It became a real divide,” Torrey said. “Every aspect of life, it affected. That’s probably never going to heal.”

Chipman’s girlfriend also is facing legal consequences in the case. On Monday, Maria L. Lockhart, 26, of Winter Harbor pleaded guilty in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court in Ellsworth to a felony charge of hindering apprehension or prosecution for helping Chipman and Burke avoid police after they became suspects in the dog’s death.

According to the Hancock County District Attorney’s office, Lockhart drove the men to Bangor and helped them rent a hotel room. The duo later turned themselves in at the Hancock County Jail in Ellsworth a few days after the dog’s body was found.

Franky’s death inspired a change in state law that allows victims in animal cruelty cases to have courtroom advocates who monitor court proceedings; review records on animals’ condition from animal control officers, veterinarians and law enforcement officers; and make recommendations to judges.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....