Grand jury indicts Erwin man after kitten buried alive, supporters pack courthouse Friday

UNICOI COUNTY, TN (WJHL) - - Dozens of animal activists packed a Unicoi County Courtroom Friday morning to show their support for a kitten that died after it was buried alive.

News Channel 11 first brought you the story in June, after a picture of Warrior covered in dirt was posted on the Unicoi County Animal Shelter's Facebook page.

Executive Director Kevin King with the Unicoi County Animal Shelter said it's a memory that still haunts him.

"I see a lot of horrific things that people don't want to know about and this is at the very top," King said. "Watching a kitten grasp for air and stare all starry-eyed, suffering. It was pretty bad."

King said the six-week-old kitten was brought to him at the Unicoi County Animal Shelter after being rescued from a small grave in Erwin.

On Friday morning, a grand jury indicted Johnny Mack Rodgers on a charge of aggravated animal cruelty. 

According to court documents, Rodgers buried the kitten alive after it was stepped on.

Kara Nickles, manager and vet technician at the Unicoi County Animal Shelter, said it's an incident that hit home for animal lovers. 

"People from all over are reaching out, people up North," Nickles said. "We've had donations come in as far as food, just anything to help us out. It's just kind of struck people all over the place."

It caught the attention of animal activists like John Wyatt, who learned about the incident on social media. 

"I was horrified to see what had happened in this incident," Wyatt said.

Wyatt designed t-shirts in memory of Warrior and to raise awareness of animal cruelty. He said part of the proceeds will go directly to the Unicoi County Animal Shelter.

"This shouldn't have happened to begin with, but if someone chooses to kill or abuse an animal there are going to be legal consequences they are going to have to face."

King said he was happy to see the community come together to support Warrior.  

"The message at the end of the day is we need to stand up for animals, we need to change laws, we need to go after people. We need to show that this is not acceptable," King said. "We will pursue it as much as we have to."

The case is now set in criminal court, Rodgers' next court appearance will be in October.

To learn more about the Unicoi County Animal Shelter you can visit their Facebook page here.


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