Trial opens today for man charged in Chesco dog shooting

Remember the Chester County man who shot his neighbors two Bernese Mountain dogs because he said they were threatening his sheep?

Well, jury selection begins in his cruelty case in Chester County Court this morning.

Some speculate that the preponderance of animal lovers in the county may make jury selection tough, reports the Chester County Daily Local.

The defendant, Gabriel Pilotti, is accused of killing the dogs, Argus and Fiona, after they escaped from their yard and wandered into his sheep field in February.

Police initially did not pursue the case because of a state law that legalizes the shooting of dogs threatening farm animals but public outcry and questions about whether the dogs were really menacing the flock changed that.

During a follow-up interview Pilotti told police that he shot first at Argus while dog was slowly trotting toward him. The dog was shot in the head and immediately fell dead to the ground. Pilotti then reloaded his shotgun and fired at the female dog, Fiona, while she was running away from him and the sheep, the complaint said.

The dogs' supporters have flooded Internet sites including  one called "Justice for Argus and Fiona" with comments and a big crowd is expected at the courthouse.

“In Chester County especially, dogs really are a big part of peoples’ lives, and the are thought of as members of the family, not just pets,” a defense attorney who is not connected to the case and did not want to be named, told the Daily Local. “It is almost an impossibility to get an unbiased jury that is not going to have an immediate impression about him” based on the accusations.

Pilotti's attorney Thomas H. Ramsay of West Chester, disputed the account in the complaint and said his client rejected a plea deal of probation because of his age.

“My client is 73 years old and didn’t like the thought of spending the rest of his life with a criminal record for something he lawfully did to protect his livestock,” Ramsay said.

Pilotti is charged with two counts of cruelty to animals, one for each of the dogs, a first-degree misdemeanor. He is also charged with a single count of recklessly endangering another person, a second-degree misdemeanor. Maximum charges carry a prison term but given Piloti has no prior record he would be unlikely to serve time.