RENO, Nevada — A 25-year-old former presidential scholar and psychology major convicted of torturing, killing and dismembering seven dogs was sentenced to up to 28 years in Nevada state prison Thursday in what the judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer all agreed may be the most horrific crime they have ever seen in their decades of legal practice.
Jason Brown of Reno, who said he earlier pleaded no contest to seven counts because he was a drug addict and had no recollection of the events, will be eligible for parole after serving a bit more than 11 years in prison.
Owners of some of the dogs testified during Thursday's sentencing hearing that they sold puppies to Brown because he seemed like a normal clean-cut kid when he responded to their ads on Craig's List. They cried in the courtroom as Washoe District Judge Elliott Sattler watched videotapes of Brown torturing and skinning the dogs.
The images weren't visible to the gallery, but Brown could be heard on the audio telling friends he took the animals to his "house of pain" and wanted to turn them into a fur coat. At least four of the dogs were beheaded.
"Those images I watched, I will never forget," Sattler said before ordering the maximum penalty for what he described as barbaric.
"The cruelty, the sadism you exhibited is simply shocking," he said. "The part that frightened me most about the videos is that you produced them in the first place. That tells me you wanted to go back and watch them again — a trophy if you will of your behavior. You watched with friends and laughed."
Brown, the adopted son of a wealthy Reno couple, was arrested in July 2014 after police came upon a gruesome, bloody crime scene where they found four dog heads inside a mini-refrigerator at a Reno motel room where he had been staying.
Brown said he couldn't remember anything during a four to -six-week period when he had been injecting heroin, methamphetamine and cocaine. He told the judge Thursday that he respects animals and had never harmed any before.
"I cannot explain the grief I felt for this horrible situation," Brown said. "I no longer had control of myself."
"It's sickening to hear these things and realize it's me," he said.
His lawyer, John Oakes, had urged the judge to order him to treatment for chronic depression and a long history of drug abuse that one psychiatrist described as the worst case of drug addiction she had ever seen.
Oakes said the sentence Brown was facing was stiffer than he could have gotten for killing a human being in a case of manslaughter. But the defense lawyer who earlier worked as a Washoe County prosecutor in his 40 year-legal career said he had "no idea how to put this in context."
"I can't make sense of something that makes no sense," Oakes said. "The kid was not in his right mind."
Assistant District Attorney Derek Dreiling said he had nothing to compare the crime to in arguing for the maximum penalty.
"It is that horrific," he said. "It's the repetition, the violence, the sadism that makes this crime worthy of the worst."
Only the judge, the lawyers and a detective on the witness stand could see the images on the video clips — two that Brown shot himself and two that friends captured on a cellphone when they were with him.
"The video and pictures in this case take your breath away," said Oakes, who said it was the first time he had ever received death threats while representing a defendant. "Over 40 years, I've seen people killed in every way, shape or form. But this case is a first for me in a lot of ways."
The audio itself was emotionally powerful — the squeal of one animal from apparent pain, and repeated sounds of knives or other metal blades clinking together dozens of times, sometimes quickly and other times methodically.
"I'm making a jacket out of them," Brown said.
One friend told that Brown that if he gets caught, he could go to prison for "like four years" for animal abuse.
"If you go to a jury, oh God," a friend said. "The jury — people would show up at the trial with their service dogs and they'd be crying."
Brown is heard explaining how he would go to Craig's List and look for ads that said, "pets free."
"The little white Chihuahuas are my favorite. If I get one of those, they are coming to Jason's house of pain," he said.
"Pugs, instead of barking, pugs sound like humans, like little kids. They yell," he said, mimicking the noise, "Ahhhhhhrrgggghhhh."
"Let me show you," he said. "You want me to get one tonight?"