- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - A central Nebraska man described as “a slave to drugs” has been sent to prison for burglary and using a hammer to kill his 6-month-old puppy.

On Wednesday the judge condemned Michael Berst, of St. Paul, for what he’d done to the dog last April. Berst pleaded no contest to several charges in December in a deal with prosecutors.

“What you did, in my opinion - whether under the influence or not - was depraved,” said Judge William Wright of Hall County District Court.

Berst was given 20 to 60 months for cruel mistreatment of animals and the same sentence for tampering with evidence. The sentences will be served at the same time. He also was given 30 to 60 months for burglary, which must be served after the two concurrent sentences.

A court document says Berst told a friend he’d first struck the dog on April 15 for relieving itself on a floor and later used the hammer to kill the dog, telling the friend he was putting the animal out of its misery because it was “whimpering and breathing funny.”

But in court, attorney Vicky Kenney said Berst needed help because he’d become a “slave to drugs.”

“I know the county attorney will make a big deal out of the animal cruelty case,” Kenney said. “But it was a dog, your honor.”

Kenney said didn’t mean to diminish what Berst had done, but she said he was at the end of his rope. The puppy had made a mess and also had been biting the backs of Berst’s daughters’ legs.

Berst had a new baby in the house, Kenney said, and “couldn’t take it anymore,” so he decided “to euthanize the dog.” Berst couldn’t afford a veterinarian, Kenney said, so he thought he would kill the dog quickly if he used the ball-peen hammer to hit the dog between the eyes.

Berst said in court that he was sorry for what he’d done and pleaded with the judge: “Please don’t put me in a cage and forget about me.”

Prosecutor Nancy Berger-Schneider said Berst had a history of convictions that goes back nearly 12 years. She described his behavior toward the dog as “vile, cruel and was the very definition of inhumane treatment.”