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Mentally ill man sentenced to 8 years in prison for stabbing two dogs, one fatally

Fort Worth Star-Telegram - 1/29/2019

Jan. 29--FORT WORTH -- A 32-year-old Fort Worth man who stabbed two of his neighbor's dogs -- killing one -- pleaded guilty Monday to two animal cruelty charges in exchange for an 8-year prison sentence.

Though only charged in the two dog stabbings, officials say Harris Eugene Hilliard is suspected in several other acts of cruelty against dogs and animals in his northwest Fort Worth neighborhood, including while he was out on bond.

"Many people think of their pets as part of the family, and our society does not condone cruel treatment of any living thing," said Michelle Dobson, who prosecuted the case along with Gina Morgan. "The sentence in this case shows that this type of brutality against animals will not be tolerated and that Harrison Hilliard will not be allowed to terrorize this neighborhood anymore.."

Hilliard's attorney, Brandon Barnett, said Hilliard has a mental illness and is on the autism-spectrum, a developmental disorder.

"Harrison has had two strikes against him since he was a young boy," Barnett said. "Growing up, he was never able to connect with people socially, never had any friends, and was often treated very unkindly by peers. While there is no excuse for animal cruelty, Harrison's developmental disorder and mental health issues certainly played a large part in his mental state when he committed the acts to which he pled guilty."

The dog stabbings occurred in November 2017 in the 2100 block of Yale Street.

The dogs' owners heard a cry on the night of Nov. 14, 2017, and walked outside to see a figure standing over Ely, their Husky. The figure then ran across a field toward a nearby house where Hilliard lives.

Ely had suffered multiple stab wounds. She was taken to a veterinarian but had to be euthanized, Dobson said.

Three days later, the family realized that their other dog, named Leela, had also been stabbed once in the back above her tail.

Hilliard was arrested by Fort Worth police on Nov. 18, 2017.

He was later released on bond and ordered on 24-hour home confinement until he could be entered into a mental health inpatient facility, court records show.

Hilliard was later jailed off and on due to violations, including not charging his GPS monitor.

During one of the several-hour periods when his GPS monitor was dead, the bodies of several dead cats and opossums were found by police a block away from his home, the Star-Telegram had previously reported.

Dobson had been appointed special prosecutor in the case in July after the Tarrant County District Attorney's Office recused itself upon learning that Hilliard was related to a staff member. Dobson praised Fort Worth police and Detective Randy Molina for their investigation of the case

"Without their hard work, we would not have gotten such a good outcome in this case," she said.

Dobson had filed a notice of intent to introduce in Hilliard's trial some of those other alleged animal cruelty acts and other bizarre behavior by Hilliard.

That included, according to the notice, Hilliard asking a woman at church for a date, then later sending harassing and threatening messages to her family and friends on Facebook when she rejected him. He also allegedly set fire to another woman's home.

As part of the plea agreement, the state will not to prosecute Hilliard for any of the offenses listed as part of the extraneous notice.

Barnett, Hilliard's attorney, said Hilliard pleaded guilty in the case "to take responsibility and put this all behind him."

Hilliard will have to serve at least a quarter of the sentence before becoming eligible for parole.

Barnett said he is hopeful that Hilliard will be granted parole and be able to get the treatment he needs.

"As the parent of a special needs child, this case demonstrates to me how critical it is to help those with a mental illness get the treatment and support that they need at the earliest opportunity," Barnett said. "It also showed me how powerful it can be to treat others with kindness, especially those that are different from us. I believe that Harrison's life could have been very different with early and regular intervention and if others had befriended him despite his social differences instead of ridiculing and isolating him."

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