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Three charged in dog's death

BY Carolyn Muyskens - cmuyskens@chronicle-tribune.com

The Marion community may finally get some answers to what happened to Lady, a 3-year-old pit bull mix who was found dead in January 2018.

Two people have been arrested and another is being actively sought by law enforcement in the death of the dog, who may have been left outside as early as Christmas Day 2017 before being discovered on Jan. 3, 2018, according to police reports.

Lady’s body was found in a cage left in a wooded area alongside River Boulevard, just north of the Mississinewa River downtown. Her death sparked outrage on social media and the Marion-Grant County Humane Society offered a reward to anyone with information.

“We’re ecstatic,” Brenda Volmer, president of the Marion-Grant County Humane Society, said of the arrests. “I’m just very grateful that someone has finally stepped up to hold people accountable for things like this.”

The dog’s owners initially told police Lady died inside their home and that they asked somebody to dispose of her body.

But a follow-up investigation conducted by the Grant County Prosecutor’s Office found holes in that story.

Investigators now believe that Edward Wheatley Jr., one of Lady’s owners, and Robert Kirkland Jr., a friend of Wheatley’s, dumped Lady near the river and that Lady was still alive when she was left outside, according to police reports.

Wheatley and Dakota Dudley, who has also been charged in the case, were living in an apartment with Wheatley’s daughter when they took Lady in, just weeks before the dog was found dead.

On Dec. 24, 2017, Wheatley’s daughter posted a picture of Lady on Facebook asking if anyone could take the dog off their hands because they did not have time for her, the investigative report says.

By Christmas Day, the dog and her cage were gone, according to witnesses.

Wheatley reportedly told Marion police the dog had gotten sick and died Christmas morning, but according to witness statements, Wheatley also told an acquaintance that he and Kirkland had dumped Lady down by the river and that he didn’t know whether Lady was dead or alive when he had left her.

He was also overheard talking about dumping Lady and implicated by others interviewed by the prosecutor’s office.

Investigators also learned Wheatley made threatening comments to his daughter about Lady and told Dudley he needed “to stick to the story.”

During the initial investigation in early 2018, a necropsy – an autopsy for a small animal – performed by Purdue University’s Small Animal Hospital in Lafayette could not determine whether Lady had died of exposure or something else. Pathologists also could not determine when she died.

However, the results did show Lady had been pregnant with six puppies at the time of her death.

Although cause of death could not be determined, an expert involved in the necropsy told investigators that Lady had showed no signs of disease or injury.

Grant County Prosecutor Rodney Faulk said he made Lady’s case “a priority” after he took office in January.

“I felt it was in the public interest to reopen the case and felt it was not properly looked at from a prosecutorial perspective,” Faulk said.

Former prosecutor Jim Luttrull Jr. had declined to file charges in the case last winter. At the time, the Marion Police Department said they had found no evidence of wrongdoing.

“I think it’s an important case because the public cared a lot about that dog. … There’s an awful lot of animal lovers in this town, myself included,” Faulk said. “We felt the people that did this should be held responsible.”

Wheatley, 40, and Dudley, 22, are charged with neglect of an animal and false informing, both Class A misdemeanors. The two were arrested and booked into the Grant County Jail Tuesday.

Kirkland, 21, is charged with false informing. As of Tuesday afternoon he had not been apprehended.