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Mount Clemens — A judge Tuesday condemned a Utica man's "unbelievable cruelty" and sentenced him to 3-6 years in prison for torturing and killing his adopted dog.

Alexander Gerth, 23, was given the prison time by Macomb County Circuit Court Judge Richard Caretti, who told him: "Words are inadequate to express the depth and breadth of your cruelty." 

Gerth pleaded no contest last month to killing and torturing his 2-year-old pit bull mix, Sterling, because he "wasn't getting along with him." 

Authorities say Gerth once bragged that he punched the dog in the head so hard that the animal urinated and defecated "all over the place." The dog was stabbed three times and left to "slowly" bleed to death in Utica's Grant Park on a cold day in January.

Assistant Macomb County Prosecutor Anthony Sorrentino asked the judge to exceed the sentencing guidelines by 27 months for Gerth, saying it was a reasonable request considering "what he's done to this animal." The guidelines called for a sentence of two to 21 months.

Sorrento also requested restitution from Gerth for the $223.90 cost of a necropsy on Sterling and that Gerth be barred from owning an animal again. The judge agreed and also ruled that Gerth cannot own a gun.

Caretti said he could not in "good conscience" follow the sentencing guidelines in the case. The judge said Sterling looked to him for love, shelter and food and "instead he was a victim of your unbelievable cruelty."

The judge told Gerth that serial killers like David Berkowitz, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer started down their "path to infamy" by abusing animals.

"Let's hope my sentence discourages you from such behavior," said Caretti.  

The judge said he had not seen such a "despicable" case in his years on the bench.

Gerth's defense attorney Mariell Lehman had asked the judge for leniency, saying her client "has issues of impulse control" but that he does have the potential to be rehabilitated.

"He's going to be a father soon. He is not a bad person. He is not a serial killer," said Lehman. "Give him a shot, judge."

Before being sentenced, Gerth apologized to his "family, community and Sterling."

"If I could go back and do this differently, I would," he said.

Macomb County animal rights activists filled Caretti's sixth-floor courtroom to hear Gerth's sentencing. Some of them wore lime-green T-shirts and other colored shirts that read "Justice for Sterling," "Be Their Voice ... Sterling & Boomer" and "We Are Their Voice."

Some of the animal rights activists cried as details of Sterling's death once again came out in court. They rejoiced after the judge rendered his sentence, clapping and hugging in the hallway outside the courtroom.

Carolyn Roberts was among the more than 40 people who showed up for the sentencing. "I'm very happy," she said. "I hope this is a deterrent. People will think twice about abusing animals."

Macomb County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Smith said prosecutors asked the judge to exceed sentencing guidelines based on the brutal nature of the crime and Gerth's prior criminal record, which included a bank robbery in Illinois.

Smith said Tuesday in a press release: “We commend the sentence that clearly demonstrates, crimes of this nature will never be tolerated!" 

 "The Judge’s sentence ensures defendant, at a minimum, spends 36 months behind bars, exceeding the guidelines by more than a year," Smith continued. “Sterling has brought great awareness to such a critical issue that troubles us as a society.”  

Authorities say Gerth had applied to adopt the dog from an animal shelter but was denied due to his living arrangements, so he had someone else adopt the animal for him.

New state laws that went into effect in March have given judges the ability to give animal abusers stiffer sentences of up to 10 years.

But Caretti judge said he could not sentence Gerth under the new law because it did not take effect until last month. The maximum sentence under the old law was four years but Gerth got two additional years because he is a habitual offender.

Smith said the new legislation "would have allowed for a more severe sentence had the crime taken place in April."

Gerth got 82 days credit for jail time served.

bwilliams@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2027

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