Evidence challenged in animal abuse case

Court asked to throw out statement that led to arrest
2002-05-21T00:00:00Z Evidence challenged in animal abuse caseBOB KASARDA Times Staff Writer nwitimes.com
May 21, 2002 12:00 am  • 

VALPARAISO - The day after chicken feathers and blood were found scattered around a local motel room last May, Michael Bessigano was interviewed by police and taken into custody on a felony charge of animal cruelty.

As his trial approaches, Bessigano was back in court Monday in an attempt to convince the judge to throw out the statement he made to police that led to his arrest.

The statement is being challenged based on the way it was obtained and on the questionable mental health of Bessigano, who has a history of animal abuse, including offenses in neighboring Lake County, according to public defender Dolores Aylesworth.

A ruling on the motion was put off at Aylesworth's request until the start of the Aug. 14 bench trial, during which time she plans to present evidence concerning Bessigano's mental health. The case is being heard by Porter Superior Court Judge Thomas Webber.

Aylesworth spent much of Monday's hearing questioning witnesses about the details of May 29, 2001, when her client was questioned and charged with the crime.

Among those who testified was Valparaiso Police Detective Lt. Michael Brickner, who said he suspected Bessigano of the crime based on past investigations.

He proceeded by contacting Bessigano's probation officer, Mary Jane Walsworth.

Walsworth testified Monday she called Bessigano in after being alerted by Brickner and he confessed to finding a dead chicken and taking it to the motel for the purpose of having sex.

Brickner, who believes the chicken had been alive before the incident, said Bessigano willingly accompanied him from the probation department to the nearby police department, provided a taped statement and was charged with the crime. He insisted Bessigano was made aware of his Constitutional rights and waived them in order to make the statement.

At no time was Bessigano threatened or offered a deal to provide the statement, Brickner said.

Yet Bessigano's mother, Madelon Bessigano, said her son felt threatened by the situation.

"He called me at work," she said. "He was terrified."

She said Walsworth threatened to put her son in jail if he did not cooperate.

Walsworth said Bessigano was informed of his responsibility to cooperate.

Porter County Deputy Prosecutor Matt Frost said there is no evidence Bessigano was deprived of his rights.

His choice not to answer some of the questions that day shows he was not being taken advantage of, said Frost.

"He wasn't blindly going along with the show of authority," he said.

Bessigano's history of animal abuse dates back to 1991 when he was arrested twice, once after being accused of breaking a rooster's neck and once after he was found in a neighbor's goose pen apparently attempting to molest the birds.

He also was accused of having sex with and killing a Rottweiler dog at a rural Crown Point ranch in 1992, and was imprisoned until 1994. A month after his release, he was arrested in connection with the attempted theft of a German shepherd in St. John Township.

Bob Kasarda can be reached at bkasarda@howpubs.com or (219) 462-5151, Ext. 345.

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