Franky, a dog owned by Winter Harbor resident Phillip Torrey, allegedly was kidnapped and killed while Torrey traveled out of state in August 2018. Credit: Courtesy of Phillip Torrey

Two men accused of killing another man’s dog each pleaded not guilty Monday to five charges stemming from the incident last summer

Justin Chipman, 23, of Steuben and Nathan Burke, 38, of Hancock each requested non-jury bench trials, at least in part due to intense publicity about the suspicious death of the dog, who disappeared while his owner was out of town and whose body was found on a Winter Harbor beach a few days later by the wife of the district attorney.

In addition, the two men will be tried separately because some evidence — texts they sent from their cellphones — is admissible in one defendant’s case but not in the other, according to Jeffrey Toothaker, Burke’s defense attorney.

Credit: Nick Sambides Jr.

Chipman, who is being held without bail, appeared Monday morning in Hancock County Unified Criminal Court in Ellsworth to be arraigned on charges of burglary, two counts of theft, aggravated criminal mischief and aggravated cruelty to animals. Wearing shackles on his ankles, Chipman said “not guilty” each time Justice Robert Murray read one of the charges aloud.

Burke pleaded not guilty later that day to the same set of dog-related charges facing Chipman. In a separate matter, Burke pleaded guilty to an unrelated charge of disorderly conduct for an altercation in February that resulted in his being sent back to jail for violating his bail after his arrest for the alleged dog-killing incident. He was sentenced to time served on that conviction, which is roughly 70 days.

With the disorderly conduct case resolved, Toothaker successfully argued Monday that Burke should be released on bail, pending the outcome of his upcoming trial. He said Burke, a war veteran, suffers from PTSD but has close family ties to the area that include a daughter and ex-wife in Hancock, with whom he has good relationships, and a sister in Bangor.

Chipman’s trial was tentatively scheduled to be held later this month. Because of a busy anticipated court schedule, Burke’s trial likely will not be held until June, according to court officials.

Chipman and Burke are accused of entering the Winter Harbor home of lobsterman Phil Torrey, for whom they had worked as sternmen, in August and taking Torrey’s dog Franky for a joy ride in Torrey’s Hummer. At the time, Torrey was out of town attending a concert in New Hampshire.

Police say Chipman and Burke shot and killed Franky, a terrier-pug mix, while they were out riding around and then dumped the dog’s body in the ocean. Franky’s corpse was found a few days later on a local beach by the wife of Hancock County District Attorney Matthew Foster, who lives in Winter Harbor. The duo also is accused of causing several thousand dollars worth of damage to the vehicle.

Chipman and Burke have said the dog ran off during the joy ride, and they never saw him again.

Animal welfare advocates gathered on the Hancock County Courthouse steps Monday morning before Chipman’s arraignment, waving signs and wearing t-shirts that said “Justice for Franky,” as they have for other court appearances by Chipman and Burke.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....