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Hall woman found guilty in Forsyth dog death case
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Hall County woman Michelle Root listens to court proceedings during her animal cruelty trial this week in Forsyth County.

A former Forsyth County dog groomer has been convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals and sentenced to five years in prison for kicking and choking a dog to death in October 2017.

On Thursday morning, a jury convicted Michelle Louise Root, 44, of Hall County, of killing a dog named Meko. Root was acquitted of a second charge of aggravated animal cruelty for the death of another dog.

Root’s five-year sentence includes three years in prison and two years of probation. Root also faces fines, community service hours and restitution. Root is also prohibited from ever caring for or grooming any animal not owned by her.

A little over an hour after the jury’s verdict was read, Root stood before judge David L. Dickinson in Forsyth County Superior Court to receive sentencing and final comments in the case.

“Ma’am, you have been abusing animals for a long time. Far too long,” Dickinson said. “It will now stop.”

Root was then escorted from the courtroom in handcuffs.

Meko’s owner, Mavel Blanco, addressed the court before Root’s sentencing and stated that after such an emotional roller-coaster she was happy that Meko did not die in vain.

“Meko was a special part of my life and my son’s life,” Blanco said. “I can’t say that I’ll ever forget how it is that this happened. I trusted someone with my dog and my family member, and they killed them. I hope that this justice that was served today for Meko affects every other animal moving forward.”

After the verdict, Meko’s other owner, Eric Francis, told the FCN that he was happy with the outcome, even though Root was acquitted of one of her charges.

“Justice was served for Meko,” Francis said. “But we need to have stronger sentencing and online registration for animal abusers.”

Root, the former owner of Paw’sh Paws in Cumming, was arrested on Oct. 11 and again on Oct. 18, 2017, after it was reported to the Cumming Police Department that two dogs, Little Boy and Meko, died under her care.

Over the two days of testomony, assistant district attorney Michael Mahoney and defense attorney Rafe Banks squared off over conflicting versions of what happened on Oct. 7, 2017, that ultimately lead to Meko’s death.

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Lisa Riles, a former employee of Paw'sh Paws, cries while testifying this week during the animal cruelty trial for Hall County woman Michelle Root in Forsyth County Superior Court.

The state based its case on Root’s past history at PetSmart, where three former employees stated that they regularly saw her abusing animals; two eye witnesses who stated that they saw Root kick and choke Meko on Oct. 7, 2017; and the necropsy by the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine that uncovered damage to Meko’s legs, abdomen, head, shoulder, neck, brain, lungs and other body parts.  

“The injuries on Meko line up exactly with what (witnesses) say,” Mahoney said in his closing argument. “That’s why you should believe them and not the three others that testified today.”

In arguments defending Root, Banks and his witnesses put forward the theory that Meko was not killed in a malicious attack but died in an accident at Paw’sh Paws after acting aggressively toward Root and another store employee.

“What you will find is, it was an accident,” Banks said. “Yes, it’s tragic, and it’s certainly unfortunate, but nobody intended for Meko to die.”

Several members of Root’s family, including her husband Chris Garrett, her mother, brother and a family friend spoke on her behalf on Thursday, but in the end Dickinson was unmoved.

“You were in a position of trust as you undertook to open a business and holding yourself out as someone to take care of the animals of this community, and you breached that trust,” Dickinson said. 

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Defense attorney Rafe Banks questions his client, dog groomer Michelle Root on Wednesday, Oct. 31, 2018, in Forsyth County.
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