Accused burner denied status

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 1, 2003

Jonah Justin Edwards has been denied youthful offender status in an animal cruelty case involving the burning of a dog.

Edwards and Johnnie Lee Bell Jr., both 19, are charged with the death of Roger and Missy Cook’s dog, Killer, who was found badly burned underneath their house Sept. 29, 2002.

Edwards is scheduled for trial June 9. A ruling on Bell’s youthful offender status has not yet occurred.

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Dallas County District Attorney Ed Greene said Joseph Hagood, Edwards’ attorney, filed for a motion requesting a mental evaluation for his client. Once the order is completed, it must be signed by a judge before Edwards is sent to Taylor Harden Secure Medical Facility for the evaluation.

Hagood declined to comment on the case.

An order from Blanchard McLeod, Bell’s attorney, is also expected to reach Circuit Judge Jack Meigs’ desk in the near future.

Both Edwards and Bell are currently out on bond.

Once an order is signed, mental health experts at the medical facility will gather background information on the defendants by contacting other treatment facilities or professionals either might have visited. After the mental health information is received, appointments for a face-to-face evaluation will be set.

If Edwards had been granted youthful offender status, his court record would have been sealed. However, since the status wasn’t granted, Edwards could face one to 10 years in prison as opposed to only one to three years.

According to Dallas County District Attorney Ed Greene, Bell and Edwards allegedly poured lighter fluid on the dog and tied it to an old bed frame in the woods. They then allegedly lit the animal on fire and left the scene.

The dog apparently escaped at some point because it was eventually found by the Cooks at their home Sept. 29, 2002.

Edwards is currently on probation for putting a baby in a freezer in North Carolina.