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Friedens man waives hearing in dog shooting case

September 16, 2018

A Friedens man accused of fatally shooting a family member’s dog in an apparent act of revenge on July 28 now faces a trial in Somerset County court.

Stephen Michael Zellem, 57, waived his right to a preliminary hearing Friday before District Judge Ken Johnson of Somerset.

According to a probable-cause affidavit, Zellem told state police that he was at his mother’s house along Zellem Lane earlier that day when the dog entered the yard and killed his mother’s cat. He went to his home a short distance away and retrieved a 12-gauge shotgun.

He returned to another residence along Zellem Lane, a short distance from his mother’s home, and fired three rounds of buckshot at the dog while it was in the yard and within close proximity of Linda Marie Zellem. She was cutting grass nearby, police said.

The dog, named Ava, was transported to Animal Medical Center in Somerset, where she was euthanized because of traumatic injuries, according to police.

Stephen Zellem was charged with aggravated cruelty to animals causing death, a third-degree felony, recklessly endangering another person, a second-degree misdemeanor, and criminal mischief, a summary count. He remains free on a $20,000 unsecured bond.

Zellem was ordered not to contact the alleged victim or go within a set distance of the property where the dog was shot as conditions of his bond, which did not change Friday.

Defense attorney Patrick Svonavec, of Somerset, is listed as Zellem’s attorney on an online court docket. Zellem’s next court appearance is scheduled for Nov. 26, when he will be formally arraigned in county court.

A petition has been started on Change.org asking prosecutors to seek the maximum penalty allowed by state law for animal cruelty. The petition is addressed to Somerset County District Attorney Lisa Lazzari-Strasiser. The petition had attracted more than 4,557 signatures as of Friday evening.

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