Cumberland County Court of Common Pleas Judge Albert Masland declined to impose a maximum penalty Tuesday afternoon when sentencing former MLB No. 1 overall pick Shawn Wesley Abner for aggravated cruelty to animals, acknowledging his sentence won’t satisfy some animal welfare advocates.
Abner, 53, a Mechanicsburg Area Senior High School graduate, pleaded guilty in November to the charge stemming from the death of his dog in August. Police said Abner went to visit his girlfriend in Kansas in July and left his sick, 14-year-old husky Eagle to die without nourishment in his sweltering Hampden Township home. Officers later found the dog “decaying so badly that it was becoming a part of the floor.”
Masland said no sentence would be large enough to satisfy some people disturbed by Abner’s actions, but he also indicated his disagreement with that point of view.
“What you did is inexplicable, inexcusable and perhaps in some minds unforgivable, but it is not damnable, and it is not deserving of eternal condemnation,” he told Abner.
The prosecution asked for a minimum sentence of nine months in prison, at the top of sentencing guideline recommendations, while the defense asked for a sentence of time served (110 days), making him eligible for immediate release. Masland chose a middle ground: a minimum sentence of 4½ months in Cumberland County Prison with credit for time served, making him eligible for parole on Feb. 25.
“I didn’t know what to do”
The case had attracted the attention of San Rafael, California-based animal welfare organization In Defense of Animals, which Masland said sent him a letter with 11,493 signatures calling for a severe penalty. It also expressed the trauma Eagle must have experienced and wondered what went through Eagle’s mind while dying.
“I have to understand what was going through your mind, frankly, when you left for Kansas,” Masland said to Abner.
Abner replied that Eagle was his “best friend for 14 years.” However, he said, he did not have the money to treat tumors and other health problems Eagle had.
“I didn’t know what to do,” he told Masland.
Abner also apologized to everyone impacted by the incident, including neighbors, police, family and friends.
In addition to 4½ to 23 months in prison, Masland sentenced Abner to a $500 fine, 200 hours of community service and a mental health evaluation. At least 100 hours of the community service must take place in south central Pennsylvania, with at least 60% assisting some organization that helps animals.
Abner’s attorney indicated he ultimately wishes to return to Kansas, where his girlfriend lives.
Daniel Walmer covers public safety for The Sentinel. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or by phone at 717-218-0021.