By Bobby Kerlik
March 10–The man who fatally stabbed a Pittsburgh police dog will spend 17 3/4 to 44 years in prison, an Allegheny County judge ruled Tuesday.
John Rush, 22, of Stowe, said nothing as sheriff’s deputies led him back to his holding cell in handcuffs and shackles.
Rocco’s handler, Officer Phil Lerza, said he was “happy” with sentence.
“I lost my partner from this and he was also a family member,” Lerza told the judge. “I lost a family member that day.”
Common Pleas Judge Jill Rangos said Rush had a significant history of violence including more than 20 assaults, and therefore deserved a long period of incarceration. She also added 8 years of probation.
A jury previously found Rush guilty of 11 of 12 counts, including abuse of a police animal.
Police and prosecutors said Rush, who was wanted on a probation violation warrant, fought with an Allegheny County sheriff’s deputy on Butler Street, evaded a Taser attempt and eluded capture Jan. 28, 2014.
They said he stabbed Rocco in the back about an hour later when police cornered him in the basement of a Lawrenceville apartment building. The 8-year-old German shepherd died two days later under a veterinarian’s care.
Rush took the stand during trial to claim he stabbed the dog in self-defense.
His mother, Renee Rush, did not speak to reporters. Assistant District Attorney Jennifer DiGiovanni told Rangos that Renee Rush is afraid of her son and that he has significant mental health problems.
Hundreds attended Rocco’s funeral at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum in Oakland, and his death drew national attention. Rocco was the fourth of 20 police dogs that died in 2014, and the first of two that were stabbed to death.
Rocco’s death spurred a state law enhancing the penalty for killing a police animal. In July, Gov. Tom Corbett signed “Rocco’s Law,” increasing the penalty to up to 10 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.
Nearly $100,000 in donations went to the Officer Rocco K-9 Memorial Fund at The Pittsburgh Foundation, forming a trust exclusively for the city’s K-9 unit. Invested Interest in K-9s, a Massachusetts nonprofit, raised more than $330,000 in Rocco’s name. The money will go toward fitted stab- and bullet-resistant vests for the dogs, training and other equipment.
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