A University of Akron student accused of killing his roommate's kitten pleaded not guilty to a felony charge Friday afternoon in Akron Municipal Court.
Matthew McCullough, who is charged with prohibition concerning companion animals, told the judge he understood the charge and didn't make any other statements during his brief arraignment.
A judge ordered McCullough to go the Summit County Jail to be booked and photographed. He's scheduled to appear in Summit County Common Pleas Court on March 17.
On Valentines Day, Gillian Strait, who owned the 10-month-old orange tabby named Leo, received an urgent and confusing text message about her pet.
"We were in class and received a text message from our roommate, Matthew McCullough, saying he was rushing our cat to the emergency vet because he had lost his temper," Strait told News 5.
Investigators believe McCullough threw the kitten against the wall inside an off-campus apartment on Carroll Street.
Strait said the head trauma was so bad that Leo was dead by the time she arrived at the animal clinic.
"Matthew confessed to the secretary that he somehow had Leo and that he had scratched and bit him and then went to the bathroom on him and then he threw him across the room," Strait said.
Strait doubts part of the suspect's account because she said Leo was afraid of McCullough and tried to avoid him.
McCullough is the first person in Summit County to be prosecuted under a tougher animal cruelty law, which makes it a felony of the fifth-degree to harm a pet. It's punishable by 6 to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
The suspect's attorney, Reid Yoder, declined to comment after the hearing.
A spokesperson for the University of Akron, Wayne Hill, would not say if the charge would impact McCullough's status as a student, citing federal privacy restrictions.
Strait is glad Ohio animal abuse laws are tougher and plans to follow the case through the courts in Leo's memory.
"I hope he pays for what he did and that he's obviously found guilty because this was definitely not an accident," she said. "People really care about their pets and we really cared about him, so it's very hard. It's kind of like losing a member of your family."