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Nassau DA: Couple accused of animal cruelty after puppy deaths

Ellie Knoller and his wife, Jessica Kuncman, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at an arraignment in Nassau County Court.

A Mineola couple are facing animal cruelty accusations after prosecutors say the husband inflicted fatal beatings on two newly adopted puppies, while his wife failed to bring a third beaten puppy to a vet for hours. Ellie Knoller, 29, and his wife, Jessica Kuncman, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at an arraignment in Nassau County Court. Prosecutors said the alleged crimes came to light after the couple brought the third puppy, an 11-week-old goldendoodle named Bella, to a Westbury vet in February. (Credit: Howard Schnapp)

A Mineola couple are facing animal cruelty accusations after prosecutors say the husband inflicted fatal beatings on two newly adopted puppies, while his wife failed to bring a third beaten puppy to a vet for hours.

Ellie Knoller, 29, and his wife, Jessica Kuncman, 30, pleaded not guilty Wednesday at an arraignment in Nassau County Court.

Prosecutors said the alleged crimes came to light after the couple brought the third puppy, an 11-week-old goldendoodle named Bella, to a Westbury veterinarian in February.

The husband faces three counts of aggravated animal cruelty and three counts of animal torture, and could spend up to two years in prison if found guilty of the top count against him.

The wife faces one count of animal torture, and could spend up to a year behind bars if convicted of the charge.

The couple ignored questions as investigators walked them into court in handcuffs and again after a judge took their passports and released them on their own recognizance.

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said at a news conference that the "brutal killing" of two puppies, a shepherd mix named Tucker and a goldendoodle named Cooper, followed by the near fatal beating of Bella, Cooper's littermate, happened in less than three weeks in February.

"Three healthy puppies don't suffer these brutal injuries by accident or as a result of being clumsy young dogs. These dogs can't testify … But these injuries and medical records tell us what happened," the district attorney said.

"In my 28 years as a prosecutor, I've never seen a case where someone committed this kind of serial violence against different puppies," Singas added.

Prosecutors say the couple adopted Tucker from North Shore Animal League America in early February, alleging Knoller beat the dog and it died about a week later after a kidney rupture.

The next day, the couple bought Cooper from a Pennsylvania breeder, then brought the puppy to a vet in cardiac arrest two days later before the dog died of a lacerated liver, according to authorities.

About a week later, the couple brought Bella, who had been nearly beaten to death, to a vet before authorities seized the dog, prosecutors said. Bella is now in foster care as she continues to recover, according to the Nassau County SPCA.

“I’ve never, ever seen a case of serial animal abuse like this," Nassau County SPCA Board president Gary Rogers said Wednesday.

Defense attorney Jeffrey Groder, who represents Kuncman, said after court that his client wouldn’t hurt an animal and wasn’t responsible for any puppy deaths.

“I think the evidence is going to show that she did not do anything wrong with respect to any animals,” he said, adding that his client has no criminal record.

Defense attorney Greg Madey, who represents Knoller, said the husband and wife were "a normal married couple who wanted to get a dog."

“They brought them to the vet when there was a problem or they detected that the animal was injured or sick … So I really think we need to get into the evidence and see how this case shakes itself out," he added.

The Nassau County SPCA is collecting donations to cover the medical bills of Bella, a goldendoodle who prosecutors called an animal abuse survivor. The puppy's treatment already has added up to a cost of $18,000 and she needs more surgery. Authorities said she suffered several broken ribs, a broken forearm and a pulmonary contusion after being beaten and choked. To donate, go to luckytobealive.ncspca.us

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