, Newburyport, MA

October 12, 2013

Judge eyes bail review in pit bull heroin case

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The man accused of slaying and gutting his pet pit bull after the dog ingested heroin no longer faces charges tied to those allegations, but remains in Middleton Jail on additional animal abuse and heroin possession charges that arose during the case.

John “Jack” Dugan has been held in Middleton Jail on $20,000 cash bail since a June plea hearing in Salem Superior Court. But, with two animal cruelty charges dropped in the case against him, the court on Friday tentatively schedule a judge to review his bail Tuesday afternoon.

The parties involved also set a Jan. 22 trial date for the remaining charges, with a final pretrial conference to fall on Dec. 5, exactly one year after Dugan’s initial arrest. Police had found the dog’s body, gutted and discarded against a fence on the Sadler Street Extension, and traced the crime back to her owner.

Salem Superior Court Judge Timothy Q. Feeley, after hearing arguments from the prosecution and defense, had dismissed two counts of animal cruelty — one related to Dugan allegedly having gutted his pit bull, Xena; the other related to an incident prior to Xena’s alleged killing when Dugan allegedly allowed the dog to choke after becoming entangled in exercise equipment.

Feeley had determined the prosecution could not prove the two counts, though he dismissed them without prejudice, after a key witness recanted her statements to police.

Feeley also determined that no law requires humans to alleviate an animal’s suffering or self-inflicted harm. And he discovered that the prosecution provided no evidence that heroin had absolutely caused the dog, Xena’s, death.

Dugan’s defense attorney John Morris had filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss all charges against Dugan.

“They still can’t prove this case,” Morris said Friday of the prosecution led by Assistant District Attorney Karen Hopwood.

In his January trial, Dugan will face a charge of heroin possession and two counts of animal cruelty for allegedly punching his two pet pit bulls on their heads and bodies during the months leading up to Xena’s death. But, the woman who had told police that Dugan would often “punch” the dogs for misbehavior, and also called him a “dangerous” man, is the ex-girlfriend who has recanted all of her statements against Dugan.

Dugan had moved to Gloucester from the southeastern Mass. community of Canton four years ago, when his mother and stepfather relocated here. He earned a GED, then worked as a mason and later a tuna fisherman, according to Morris.

While living in Canton, at age 17, Dugan was convicted of vehicular homicide, found guilty of drunken driving in a crash that killed his 17-year-old female passenger. He served two years on that conviction.

He faced a few other charges in district court in the past four years. A 2007 Gloucester police report notes that Dugan was also arrested on an animal cruelty charge in 2007 after breaking the legs of a past girlfriend’s dog “in a fit of rage,” according to reports at the time.

Excluding a period this winter when Dugan met bail terms, he has remained in Middleton Jail since his early December arrest.

That period of release, which lasted about six weeks after Dugan’s stepfather, Eugene C. Tessicini, met the terms of his then-$20,000 bail in late January, ended in an arrest at the Captain’s Lodge Motel. Police rearrested Dugan at the motel March 7, after Dugan admitted to taking Percocet pills, smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in the motel room.

If convicted on an animal cruelty charge, Dugan could face a state prison sentence of no more than five years, or serve time in a house of correction for not more than 2 1/2 years. He could also face a fine of up to $2,500 on each count, or a combination of fine and jail time.

A first-time conviction of heroin possession carries a penalty of up to two years in a state prison.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at