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Dog killer facing possible jail time

John Colson

A former Carbondale man convicted of cruelty to animals for killing his neighbor’s dog will be sentenced today in Glenwood Springs.

Ted Coffman, who now lives in Arizona, could go to jail for as long as 18 months and pay a fine of up to $5,000 for his actions last August, depending on the sentence handed down by Garfield County Judge Vic Zerbi.

Coffman was sentenced after a two-day jury trial in Pitkin County in June at which his attorney argued that Coffman was justified in shooting his neighbor’s 16-month old Rottweiler, Xena, because the dog had been terrorizing the Coffman family for weeks. In shooting the dog to death with a shotgun, attorney Patrick Mika maintained, Coffman was acting in self-defense.

But Deputy District Attorney Lawson Wills countered that neither Coffman nor his family was ever in “imminent danger” of being harmed by the dog, and that he should have found a less drastic means of dealing with his fear of the dog.

Coffman had been living with his family at 6336 Highway 133 in Carbondale for about two weeks before the shooting on Aug. 19, 1999.

Prior to the shooting, the Coffman family had complained to the Tanis family, Xena’s owners, and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office about Xena wandering onto the Coffman property. On one occasion, the dog allegedly chased Coffman and his young son, who took refuge in their truck.

“They were kept prisoner in their own home,” said Mika, referring to an Aug. 6, 1999, incident in which Xena allegedly chased Coffman and his son, who was then 4 years old.

But Xena’s owners, Cynthia and Steve Tanis, said in court that they had never seen their dog act in a threatening manner toward people.

“I was willing to do anything I could to make [the Coffmans] feel at ease,” Cynthia Tanis testified. “I’ve never seen Xena act aggressive toward people. … I would put down any animal myself if I thought it was threatening.”

In response to the complaints, the Tanises were in the process of installing an invisible fence to keep Xena on their property when the shooting occurred.

Court testimony during the trial showed that the dog was about 20 feet from the Coffman home and not moving when Coffman spotted it, went to a closet and pulled out the shotgun.

He then pushed open a screen door, watched the dog for a few moments, and opened fire, according to testimony.

The case sparked a heated controversy up and down the Roaring Fork Valley, prompting numerous letters to local newspaper defending one side or the other for their actions.

The sentencing hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. in the Garfield County Courthouse in Glenwood Springs.

Deputy District Attorney Wills, preparing for the sentencing hearing last week, said that state law includes “anger management classes” as a sentencing option in such cases, although he was not sure it would be applicable in this particular situation.


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