Owners of dogs who died at kennel speak out, call for justice

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GILBERT, Ariz. -- The owners of nearly two dozen dogs who died at a Valley kennel are calling for justice, after all animal cruelty charges were dropped against the four defendants from the boarding facility where 21 dogs died last summer.

On June 21, 2014, police discovered more than 20 dead or severely injured dogs at Green Acre Dog Boarding in Gilbert. At the time, the Hughes family said the animals died of heat exhaustion after one dog chewed through the air conditioner's power cord. But Maricopa County Sheriff's investigators reportedly found no evidence that a chewed-up wire was to blame.

However, questions about the air conditioner led to the dropped charges on Monday.

Now, the families who owned those dogs are speaking out. They gathered at a news conference Tuesday, adults and children holding pictures of the beloved pets that they lost.

"I lost my two golden retrievers," says Shannon Gillette. "In a few days we have Christmas. I have two little boys, and they still ask every day, where are my dogs? It's horrible."

Gillette and five others whose pets perished at Gilbert's Green Acre boarding facility last summer expressed both dismay and shock Tuesday over the decision of County Attorney Bill Montgomery to dismiss dozens of animal cruelty charges in the case.

"Our dogs died because the caretakers stuffed 28 dogs into a sealed-off, secret, 9-by-12 room, and because of their actions over 20 dogs died," says Gillette.

Montgomery says he dismissed all but one fraud charge against Todd and Maleisa Hughes after defense attorneys produced evidence that a faulty air conditioner may have factored in the dogs' deaths.

But according to the attorney representing the grieving dog owners, that's a statement that should be decided by a jury in a criminal prosecution.

"There is no doubt in this case that the defendants engaged in cruel neglect," says John Schill. "They stuffed all these dogs in a 9-by-12 room and left them to die."

But Montgomery has left open the possibility that new charges could be filed in the future. That's something the owners of the dogs say they hope will happen.

"It just makes me sick to my stomach," says Valerie Collins. "How can you take dogs out of the room that morning and still be alive and not call for emergency services? Some of those dogs lived for four hours."

"We want to see these charges reinstated," says Gillette. "We want to see this case go to trial so a jury can decide."

Following an investigation, Jesse and Maleisa Hughes had been charged with 22 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals and one felony count of fraudulent schemes and artifices. Austin and Logan Flake were each charged with 21 felony counts and seven misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals.  

All four of the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.