CHARLES CITY COUNTY, VA (WWBT) - The Petersburg firefighter facing 52 counts of animal cruelty pled guilty today to reduced charges. But whatever happened to those animals is still a mystery.
Ronald Hartman, 61, remains a free man, but with a considerably thinner wallet. In exchange for a guilty plea to ten misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, he'll pay a $5,000 fine and $11,000 in restitution to Charles City County.
His attorney said Hartman is remorseful.
"Oh yeah, because he loves animals, no question about that," said attorney Elliott Bondurant.
The charges stem from a search of Hartman's Roxbury Road property back in April. Authorities found more than 150 hunting dogs in unspecified living conditions. Attorneys still aren't talking about the evidence, though court papers indicate dogs were possibly being sold from there.
Hartman's attorney declined to elaborate.
Andy: "Why did he come to this conclusion today?"
Elliot: "I really don't want to get into that."
Andy: "How come? Is it sensitive for him?"
Elliot: "Well, I just think that's best between myself and my client."
Animal rights activists who attended the hearing say Hartman deserved a harsher punishment.
"I was extremely disappointed with it. I felt that Mr. Hartman should've been charged with all 52 counts. I know that there are people who were hoping that he would serve at least a little bit of jail time," said Strother Sharp of Virginia Voters for Animal Welfare.
Unlike other defendants, Hartman exited the courthouse through a back door, and avoided questions. He reserves the right to appeal, which is why attorneys aren't saying much. Even the stack of court papers in Hartman's thick file doesn't reveal what specifically led to the charges, and it remains unknown, at least publicly, how all the dogs from Hartman's property are doing now.
Hartman will avoid jail time as long as he stays out of trouble for ten years. He also is forbidden from owning any animals other than his seven household dogs.
As of Wednesday afternoon, Hartman still was considered a member of the Petersburg Fire Department.