Navy Sailor who Beat Wife's Dog to Death Could Avoid Jail Time

The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) gets underway from Naval Station Norfolk to conduct sea trials, May 16, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Hendrick Dickson)
The Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) gets underway from Naval Station Norfolk to conduct sea trials, May 16, 2018. (U.S. Navy photo/Hendrick Dickson)

NORFOLK -- A Navy sailor has admitted to killing his wife's dog, but a plea deal could let him escape without a felony conviction or jail time.

Richard Schunke has pleaded guilty to felony cruelty to animals, and in exchange Norfolk prosecutors asked a judge to hold off on punishing him.

If Schunke stays out of trouble and brings proof he completed anger management counseling to a court hearing in March 2020, prosecutors said, they'll let him plead guilty to misdemeanor cruelty to animals and won't ask for jail time.

Schunke, a petty officer and gunner's mate stationed on missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf, faced up to five years in prison if convicted of the felony.

Schunke fatally beat his wife's dog, Layla, an 8-year-old beagle who died on Dec. 10, 2017. A necropsy revealed Layla died from abdominal trauma.

"Her spleen was torn, a kidney was bruised, and the left lobe of her liver was split almost in two," prosecutor Catherine Dodson wrote in court documents outlining her case against Schunke.

In a June interview, Schunke's wife, Laura Jahn, said she'd been texting him throughout the afternoon of Dec. 10 while she was working as a leasing agent for a Virginia Beach property management company.

Schunke told her Layla wasn't obeying him, Jahn said. He was especially frustrated because she wouldn't go to the bathroom outside when he commanded her to.

Jahn said she replied by telling her husband to leave the dog alone. She'd be home soon and would handle it.

Then, Jahn said, her husband sent another text saying Layla had an accident in the house. Schunke said he was done, that Jahn had to choose between him and the dog because he no longer felt welcome in his own house.

Around 4 p.m., he texted again: Layla had bit him. He sent a picture of his hand with a single puncture mark on the web connecting his thumb and forefinger.

Eventually, he'd send a final series of texts: The dog wasn't moving. He was taking her to the vet.

Jahn said she told Schunke to take the dog to a vet immediately, and she'd meet them there. They did, and a vet told her Layla was dead.

It was not the first time Schunke got mad about Layla, Jahn said. About a month before Layla died, Jahn said, she taped a conversation with Schunke, a recording she shared with The Virginian-Pilot. In it, a man can be heard yelling about carrying a dog outside and having to wait with it for 10 minutes before carrying it back inside.

"You want to know what, Laura, that was just the straw that broke the camel's back," the man yells.

Jahn and Schunke met in 2011 while going to college at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I., Jahn said. They were friends and started dating in November 2016.

They got married April 17, 2017. Two months later, the couple moved to Norfolk because Schunke had been stationed here.

A day after Layla died, Jahn said, she called a lawyer to file for divorce. Within 48 hours, she moved back up to Connecticut to live with her mom.

This article is written by Jonathan Edwards from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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