Trent Hebel stood in court Wednesday night, knees shaking, staring straight ahead, his hands folded in front of his waist as he waited for a verdict from the jury after a trial on charges that he poisoned his ex-girlfriend’s dog.
And then he fainted when the jury announced he had been found guilty of mistreatment of an animal and stalking.
Family members cried and rushed to his aid. A sheriff’s deputy held his head while another officer called for medical assistance. A woman said Hebel’s reaction suggests he is not a character of malice and that he was wrongfully accused.
Earlier in the day, defense attorney Jonas Bednarek shook his head while delivering a closing statement to jurors, questioning why the piece of evidence linking his client to a dog’s poisoning death had been discarded.
“That seems really strange to me,” Bednarek said.
Bednarek pointed out numerous holes he saw in the state’s narrative that Hebel, 30, of Poynette, had intentionally caused the death of his ex-girlfriend’s dog, Gander, by leaving poisoned meat out for it to eat on May 1, 2015.
Judge Michael P. Screnock had asked jurors not to be swayed by sympathy and to use their soundest judgment to deliver a just and true verdict.
A day earlier, multiple witnesses testified that Hebel placed meat laced with either antifreeze or rat poison that led to the dog’s death. Witnesses also had claimed Hebel approached the house days later and left messages that they say caused them severe emotional distress.
Crime lab tests indicated the substances inside the containers had tested positive for antifreeze, but not rat poison.
Bednarek said it was ridiculous that video footage from a nearby gas station was never obtained, that detectives never investigated other possible suspects, that phone records showed heartfelt text messages even after the dog had been poisoned and that the plastic containers allegedly having Hebel’s fingerprints on them had been thrown in the garbage after testing.
“You’re the ones who have to say it’s not OK,” he told jurors.
Assistant District Attorney Crystal Long said in her closing remarks that the defense sought to give jurors permission to find Hebel not guilty because the lawyers didn’t like how evidence was handled.
She said Bednarek was attempting to distract jurors with a “red herring.”
Long said fingerprint evidence linking Hebel to the crime scene was trustworthy and that a witness who owned the dog had said she could not sleep and feared for her life after Hebel left a note on her car and knocked on the window to the house.
“You heard from Laura Matson at the crime lab. She told you about the fingerprints. … All of them matched Trent Hebel,” Long told the jury.
Long said Hebel was the only person who touched the containers enough to leave fingerprints on them.
Hebel waived his constitutional right to testify in court Wednesday.