Judge denies probation program for NY man accused of killing Ridgefield dogs
A hunter accused of killing two pet dogs in Ridgefield will not have his charges disappear. On Wednesday in Danbury Superior Court, Judge Robin Pavia denied a request by Mike Konschack for accelerated rehabilitation, a pre-trial probation program that, if successfully completed, allows the case to be dismissed. Pavia ruled the allegations were too serious to grant the application.
Konschak, 61, of Carmel, NY, was arrested in February on charges of tampering with evidence, forgery, interfering with an officer, archery hunting deer on private land/failing to have written consent from the landowner and violating wild game hunting regulations (behaviors and actions of hunters-domestic animals).
During the hearing, Konschack’s attorney, Brian Romano, called the deaths of German shepherds Cimo and Lieben “a hunting accident.” Romano said his client was in a hunting blind when he saw what he believed were two coyotes chasing a deer and a fawn.
Konschack echoed that in his statement to the court. “This was simply an honest case of mistaken identity based on their physical appearance and their pursuit of two deer that morning, as well as lack of collars or identifying tags. I made a reasonable judgement call based on these observations,” Konschak said.
It happened Nov. 18 in the woods off Topcrest Lane where Konschak was hunting with a crossbow.
According to the dogs’ owner, Erin Caviola, Cimo and Lieben had escaped the family's yard after a bear knocked down part of the fence. The Caviola family, with help from animal control, friends and community members, spent the next month searching for their pets and posting on social media. Caviola only learned about Cimo and Lieben’s fate when someone alerted her to photos of her dead dogs that were shared with a taxidermist, who was asked to tan the animals’ hides.
That led the Department of Energency and Environmental Protection to open an investigation and later arrest Konschak.
“In the murders of Cimo and Lieben, we have had no closure. We've had no comfort. All we have is pain, anger, disappointment, and worst of all, the horribly gruesome images of our beloved dogs shot dead and skinned,” said Caviola in court. Poster-sized pictures of the dogs were propped up in front of Caviola as she read her statement.
The courtroom was packed with Caviola’s friends and family, along with community members and animal advocates. Some of them cried as Caviola spoke. So many people showed up, not everyone could fit in the hearing.
“As the court can see, there's a tremendous amount of public interest in this case,” Romano told the judge at the start of the hearing. “That interest does not change my clients unwavering sorrow for the owners’ loss of their pets.” Romano said it also didn’t change that Konschak is eligible for accelerated rehabilitation. Konschak, a respiratory therapist who served in the U.S. Air Force, has no prior criminal history. He’d been hunting in that area with verbal permission from the landowner for almost 30 years.
“My client, as the court knows full well, has his right to remain silent. My client was apprised of that right. He decided he wanted to come forward because it was the only way he’d have the opportunity to say sorry and explain what happened to the owners,” Romano explained.
But Danbury State’s Attorney David Applegate objected to accelerated rehabilitation and to that narrative, saying Konschak didn’t come forward until he’d been caught. Applegate also said Konschak’s story was filled with inconsistencies.
“When he approached those dogs, and I understand very quickly he cut those dogs up, he would have noticed that the male dog had been neutered, and he would have noticed that the female dog had a large hysterectomy scar, which would show anyone who knows anything about wildlife or has ever owned a pet that these weren't coyotes. Coyotes don't get surgery in the wild. They were clearly domestic animals. And at that point, if he'd done the right thing, he would've saved the family a massive amount of grief, but that's not what he did,” Applegate stated. He accused Konschak of trying to “preserve himself rather than do the right thing.”
Applegate also addressed the fact that Konschak is not charged with animal cruelty at this time. He said as the investigation continues, there’s plenty of time to add charges in the case.
Caviola previously started an online petition asking Konschak be charged with animal cruelty and denied the diversionary program. By Wednesday morning, it had over 50,000 signatures from around the world.
“We are asking that the details of this crime not disappear. We are asking that Mike Konschak not receive accelerated rehabilitation. We have to live with this forever, and we feel he should too,” Caviola told the judge.
Konschak ended his statement with an apology and a vow. “I humbly offer my most sincere condolences, sympathies and apologies, as well as my commitment to helping to right this wrong,” he said.
But Pavia said she couldn’t grant him accelerated rehabilitation. “It is impossible for this court based upon the facts and circumstances of this case to make a finding that the crime is not of a serious nature,” Pavia said. “And what really stands out in my mind here is the layers that went into what becomes the ultimate case.”
After court, Caviola said a weight has been lifted from her shoulders with that ruling.
“For us, we want to now start to go back to our happy memories of Cimo and Lieben and not the gruesome act of what Mike Konschak did to their bodies. So yes, we are going to move forward and heal from this,” Caviola told News 12.
Konschak’s case file, including the charges and arrest warrant, had been sealed after Konschak applied for accelerated rehabilitation right away. The file became public after Wednesday’s hearing. Konschak’s warrant can be read here.
He’s due back in court April 12. Caviola said her family will be there for that appearance and all the following ones.