A Grand Island man has been charged with two felonies for beating a 6-month-old puppy to death with a ball-peen hammer.

Michael J. Berst, 26, of 2408 W. First appeared in Hall County Court via video conference Monday morning. He was charged with the cruel neglect of an animal resulting in serious injury or death and tampering with physical evidence for the April 15 incident involving a pit bull terrier mix named Buddy.

In court, Deputy Hall County Attorney Nancy Berger-Schneider said someone saw Berst tossing what appeared to be an animal’s body in a trash bin. That person notified authorities, and animal control officers from the Central Nebraska Humane Society responded and retrieved the puppy’s body from the trash. Authorities determined the puppy belonged to Berst’s family, she said.

The animal had been killed by blows to the head from a ball-peen hammer, she said.

When questioned by police, Berst admitted killing his family’s dog, she said.

According to online records from the Hall County Jail, Berst was arrested at his home on Sunday.

Berger-Schneider asked for a bond of 10 percent of $100,000 due to the “heinous nature” of the crime and because Berst has previously failed to appear in court when required in another case. Hall County Judge Art Wetzel granted the request.

Prior to the setting of his bond, Berst said he thought he could hire his own attorney. Wetzel told him that if he’s unable to hire an attorney, he can request court-appointed counsel and fill out a financial affidavit for the court to review.

Berst’s preliminary hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 11. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each felony.

According to court records, Berst’s criminal history in Hall County includes charges of aiding and abetting a felony and misdemeanor theft in 2005, misdemeanor criminal mischief in 2006 and driving under suspension in 2011.

Laurie Dethloff, Central Nebraska Humane Society executive director, said, as far as she knew, animal control officers hadn’t investigated Berst for animal cruelty in the past.

In this case, they were called by a woman who was concerned when she saw a man throwing an animal’s body away. Humane Society staff was later contacted by someone who’d spoken to Berst about the dog’s death. That led to an investigation, she said.

She said it was her understanding that Berst told police officers he had struck the dog because he was angry at the animal for relieving himself on the floor.

Dethloff praised the two people who contacted the Humane Society with information in this case. She said hearing from the public is key in building many of the neglect and abuse cases animal control officers investigate.

“We’re starting to see more suspicious stuff,” she said. “The neglect we are seeing has accelerated over the last six to nine months. It’s unnerving.”

 His pretrial is scheduled for July 17.

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