By Kim Chakanetsa
Her name was Madea and when her photo first appeared on the overhead projector in a Brooklyn courtroom, she looked like an ordinary eight-pound house cat. The second photo, however, told a different story – it showed bruises so bad she had to be put to sleep. She made her appearance at the trial of the man accused of beating her. And on Tuesday, a Brooklyn jury found Lordtyshon Garrett guilty of aggravated animal cruelty.
The trial began with the Assistant District Attorney Ayanna Blake telling the jury about the close relationship between Madea and her owner of six years, Debra Bender. She told of their morning routine, during which the grey-blue feline would follow Bender as she prepared for work. In the evening Madea would await Bender’s return by the door.
Bender’s relationship with her son-in-law, Garrett, who was at the time living with her, was less straightforward. The Daily News reported that in the leadup to Madea’s death, the pair had fought after Bender had told Garrett to get a job and move out. On the morning of October 12, 2009, Bender left for work, leaving her 19-year old son Aziz, who has cerebral palsy, at home with his home health aid, Sharon Williams, as well as with Garrett. The details of what took place that day formed the basis of the trial.
Williams testified that during the course of the day Madea was hurt, Garrett disappeared into the back of the house. She said she heard the shower running. When Madea reappeared she was wet. Aziz, who also took the stand, noted that Madea had appeared frightened around Garrett that afternoon.
When Bender returned home that evening Madea was nowhere to be found. Accounts differ as to where she was eventually found. Blake told the jurors that Madea was found in Garrett’s bedroom. Aziz testified that Madea was carried into his bedroom by Garrett’s wife, who is also named Debra. Both accounts agree on this point: Madea was unwell – she was struggling to breathe.
Aziz told the jury that when Bender left for work the next day she told him to watch the cat. By then Madea’s condition had worsened; she had difficult walking and her breathing was becoming increasingly shallow. Dr. Naomi Ueda, the veterinarian who attended to Madea that night, explained to the court that Madea not only had bruising on her abdomen, chest and face but she was also suffering from a collapsed lung. A decision was made to put her down.
Garrett’s lawyer, Susan Morris seized on that decision. When Ueda took to the witness stand Morris questioned her with a quiet tenacity.
“How much does it cost to euthanize?”
“How much does it cost to go to a 24-hour hospital?”
Morris let the question hang in their air, suggesting that the decision to euthanize was influenced by financial constraints. The defense also seized on life in the Bushwick household which was described by Morris as “chaotic”, a busy place with people coming and going. Throughout the trial Morris asserted that there was no evidence to suggest that Garrett had caused the injuries to the cat.
DNA said otherwise. At the center of the prosecution’s case was a broken umbrella borrowed from Aziz by Garrett a few days before the incident, which was found to contain Madea’s teeth marks and DNA. A piece of the broken umbrella was found in Madea’s cat litter. The prosecution also highlighted remarks allegedly made by Garrett after the incident. According to Aziz’s testimony, Garrett told him: “I got her good.” Aziz also testified about what he described as Garrett’s nonchalant attitude towards Madea’s death. “Who cares its just a cat.”
Throughout the trial which was devoid of spectators, Garrett sat quietly, conferring regularly with his lawyer. Dressed smartly, Garrett had perhaps wisely left off the big fur hat that he had worn in earlier court appearances, in a much-remarked upon act of sartorial defiance. Garrett told the Daily News that the cat’s death had received more attention than the death of his brother on June 14, 2009 in a Brooklyn street robbery.
Madea’s death indeed generated a vast amount of coverage in the papers and online. “Scumbag,” “kitty-killer” and “heartless punk” were some of the tamer insults lobbied at Garrett in comment sections online. An equal volume of disgust was directed at Angelo Monderoy, a 20-year old Brooklyn man whose trial was also being heard in Brooklyn Supreme Court. Monderoy was found guilty on March 8, of setting fire to his superintendent’s cat out of boredom. Meanwhile, in Bushwick, a 19-year old girl was charged with aggravated cruelty on March 8, following the death of a hamster nine months earlier.
Garrett now awaits sentencing. He faces up to four years for aggravated animal cruelty.