Sarah McBurnett may not have Leo, her bichon frise, but at least she feels like she has justice.
It took jurors less than an hour Tuesday to decide that Andrew Burnett was guilty of animal cruelty for taking his road rage out on Leo, a 19-pound lap dog. He could be sentenced to as much as three years in prison.
McBurnett said she was relieved when she heard the jury's decision.
"I was fairly confident that it would be guilty," she told Good Morning America. "All the evidence supported a guilty verdict. And I was also melancholy a little bit, remembering Leo and realizing that it was all for him. He was a precious, precious dog."
But while McBurnett is pleased with the guilty verdict, she feels as if the longest possible sentence — three years in prison — is not enough. She says the man convicted of animal cruelty today for tossing her dog into traffic should get as much as 10 years.
"I think it was a violent crime, with a tremendous amount of hatred and malice toward me and Leo," says McBurnett. "I believe that treatment of animals is sort of a litmus test of general behavior."
The case goes back to a rainy night in February 2000 when McBurnett was driving to the San Jose airport.
Her station wagon bumped into a black sport utility vehicle. The driver got out of the car and did something that stunned McBurnett and, later, animal lovers across the country.
"He grabbed my dog and I was just taken aback — I thought, 'He has my dog!'" " said McBurnett. "I thought he was dognapping him. I thought he was going to take him back to his car and escape with him. But instead he just took him and threw him."
She watched in horror as Leo was run over by a van. He died as she rushed him to an emergency veterinarian.
Animal lovers rounded up a $120,000 reward, and nearly a year later, police identified Burnett, a former Pacific Bell repairman, as the SUV driver and charged him with animal abuse.
Prosecutors refused to let him plea bargain.
"At one time I boxed and when you have a person on the ropes, you don't let 'em up," Santa Clara Deputy District Attorney Al Weger said.
Andrew Burnett never testified, but he did tell his story to ABCNEWS in an exclusive interview. He did not reach into the car and grab the dog to throw it out into traffic in order to kill it, Burnett said.
"As the dog was biting me the reaction was to grab the dog to get it off my finger and the dog landed right next to my side and it was alive and [there was] nothing wrong with the dog," Burnett said.
In court, his lawyer said he grabbed the dog because it bit him on the hand and tossed the dog into traffic in a reflex action. Burnett has been in custody since Jan. 4 on unrelated charges of grand theft, filing a false document in court and having a dangerous weapon while in jail.