Justin Riggs, left, and Brian Tichner are behind bars for their alleged roles in a January 15 dog shooting.
Mattie, a 10-month old Husky, was shot and killed in the front yard of a home in the Fray's Grant subdivision.
File photo/Courtesy Yvonne Scarborough
One of two convicted felons arrested for their alleged role in the January shooting of a family dog is claiming that it was all a mistake–- that they went drinking and hunting for deer with a vermin gun, when the shooter made a tragic target error. The claims, aired May 5 in Albemarle County General District Court, didn't win any immediate bail, and the assertion that they were deer-hunting with a .17– a rifle whose bullet typically weighs about half the weight of a .22– won only disbelief from the dog's owner.
"Why would you go hunting for deer with a .17, knowing you're not going to be able to bring something down?" asks Mattie's owner, Ed Scarborough. He says that when he and his wife took the dog's body to the veterinarian after the incident to retrieve the bullet, the vet told them it hadn't hit any major organs.
"She bled to death over some period of time," says Scarborough, noting that the allegedly errant hunters could have alerted the family of the accident– if that's what it was.
"If they'd come up to the door and said, 'We accidentally shot your dog,'" he says, "we could have possibly saved her. I don't believe a damn thing they're saying, other than the fact they shot the dog."
Twenty-six year old Justin Tyler Riggs was denied bond after his companion that night, 21-year-old Brian Tichner, testified against him, claiming Riggs was the triggerman and that neither had known it was a dog they'd seen– until they heard a yelp. They'd been hunting deer in the residential neighborhood, Tichner said.
Tichner's attorney, David Heilberg, says his client is remorseful.
"He wrote a letter of apology to the victims," says Heilberg, adding that the gesture was made before he'd obtained legal counsel. Scarborough says the family is aware of the letter, but never received it.
Details of the night in question came out during the Thursday hearing, which was Riggs' preliminary. According to a courtroom observer, Tichner testified that what ended with the death of Mattie began as a night out for the duo, along with Mitchell Tichner, Tichner's father.
Riggs and the elder Tichner were drinking, Tichner testified, and, at some point, decided to go deer hunting even though it was past season. As Mitchell Tichner drove through the Fray's Grant neighborhood, Tichner testified, Riggs, sitting in the front passenger seat, fired Mitchell Tichner's gun at something.
Tichner, who testified that he'd told his friend not to fire the gun, says the group only realized what Riggs had shot when they heard the dog cry out.
Riggs, who is charged with possession of a firearm as a violent felon, cruelty to animals, and illegal hunting, will remain behind bars at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail. He goes before a grand jury for indictment on June 6 in Albemarle County Circuit Court. His attorney, William Tanner, says his client denies shooting the dog.
Tichner, who is charged only with possession of a firearm as a violent felon, will face his own preliminary hearing on Thursday, May 12. According to records and courtroom testimony, both men face as many as 12 years of their suspended sentences for violating probation in addition to the minimum sentence of five years for possessing a firearm as a felon. Riggs could face one to five additional years for animal cruelty.
As for Mattie's family Ed Scarborough says they're trying to move past the incident that shook not only the human members but the surviving dog, Max, who dropped from 65 to 45 pounds after his littermate's death. "He just stopped eating," says Scarborough, who reports the arrival of a new female husky, three-month-old "Mattie 2," has restored Max to health.
Scarborough says he's pleased with the arrests but has sympathy for the families of Tichner and, especially, Riggs, who has three-month-old twins and whose wife pleaded the court for his release.
"It's unbelievable to go out and do something that stupid that would jeopardize the longevity of your family and the care of your newborn children," says Scarborough. "It's astonishing to me."
The $25,000 reward still stands, and Scarborough says if no one has come forward with a valid claim at the time of a conviction, it will be donated to a local charity serving animals.