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Originally published May 16, 2009 at 11:30 AM | Page modified May 16, 2009 at 8:28 PM

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Police dog's killer gets a life term: Conviction was man's third strike

Ronald J. Chenette, convicted six months ago in the death of a police dog, knew he was going to prison for life well before Friday's sentencing hearing in Clark County Superior Court. Everyone else knew, too.

The (Vancouver) Columbian

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Ronald J. Chenette, convicted six months ago in the death of a police dog, knew what was going to happen well before Friday's sentencing hearing in Clark County Superior Court.

Everyone else knew, too.

The sentence was dictated by the state's "three strikes" law, which locks away felons for life after three violent crimes.

The absence of suspense might explain why nobody who didn't have to be at the hearing showed up, save for Chenette's parents and one other supporter.

When Judge Roger Bennett expressed surprise that no officers appeared on behalf of Dakota, a 5-year-old German shepherd owned by the Vancouver Police Department, Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson shrugged.

The sentencing had been rescheduled many times — due to requests from court-appointed defense attorney Jeff Barrar, who was investigating a tip about juror misconduct but didn't turn up any wrongdoing. Maybe officers gave up trying to attend, Jackson said.

Jackson also mentioned that SWAT officers who responded to the Oct. 23, 2007, incident were in training Friday afternoon.

Unable to argue the sentence, Barrar expressed hope the case will get people to think about how poorly society deals with the mentally ill. Chenette was diagnosed in 2000 with paranoid schizophrenia. He hadn't been taking his medicine.

"His parents love him, they tried to care for him, but they can't watch him every second of every day," Barrar said.

The day Dakota was shot, Chenette "got his hands on a couple of beers and a handgun," Barrar said.

Chenette's friend called 911 and said Chenette was threatening to kill police. SWAT officers were called out to a wooded area with a steep gully, which would have been difficult for the two-legged officers to navigate. Dakota went in.

Soon, officers heard a gunshot.

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Chenette said he fought with Dakota for more than a minute before he fired. He said he thought Dakota was going for his throat and was going to kill him.

"All I have to say is, I'm sorry about the dog that got shot," Chenette said.

Chenette's first two strikes were second-degree murder — he killed a drug dealer — and second-degree assault. Harming a police dog, a class C felony, isn't a strike. But prosecutors filed a firearms enhancement for using a gun, and that elevated the crime to a strike.

Since his first two violent crimes were against humans, Bennett said it wasn't "freakish or unfair or unconstitutional" that Chenette was getting a life term for killing a dog.

Offenders with two strikes, he said, are on thin ice. "Even a shoving match at a 7-Eleven over a bottle of beer could have resulted in life in prison," Bennett said.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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