A Glendale Heights man who claimed his pet cockatiel already was dead when he cut it up to feed his pet snakes was found guilty Tuesday of aggravated animal cruelty.
David Hritz, 39, also was convicted of breaking his former roommate's nose last August in what DuPage County prosecutors called a "fit of unprovoked rage."
Judge Robert Kleeman delivered the verdicts after the battery victim took the witness stand and recanted earlier written statements alleging Hritz attacked her and then repeatedly stabbed his cockatiel, Tootsie, on their living-room floor.
The woman, 39, instead claimed she answered a knock on the door and was beaten by an unknown assailant. She said the bird was dead and the assailant had fled by the time Hritz arrived a few minutes later, at which point he used a knife to cut up the dead bird so it would be a more enticing meal for his two pet snakes.
"It is absolutely an absurd story," Kleeman said.
Prosecutors called three police officers and a neighbor who corroborated different elements of the woman's initial version of events.
The night of the attack, she told police Hritz came home drunk and repeatedly punched her in the head and body after he had trouble getting in the front door. She said he threw Tootsie against a wall three times after the bird repeatedly flew to his shoulder, then stabbed it five or six times with a folding pocket knife.
On Tuesday, the woman said she had consumed several small bottles of Southern Comfort and taken eight or nine psychotropic medications that night. She said she initially believed Hritz attacked her but later "found out it was somebody else."
"I thought it was him -- that day," she said. "I was confused and deranged."
Neighbor Dawn Anderson testified the victim's boyfriend called her shortly after the attack to find refuge for the woman, who he said had contacted him after being beaten up by Hritz. Anderson said the woman had a bloody nose, a bruise on her back, and several other injuries when she arrived a minute or two later.
"(She said) David beat her up and killed his bird," the neighbor testified. "She was upset and in shock. She said he was really out of it drunk."
In closing arguments, prosecutors said it's common for domestic battery victims to recant and noted Hritz remains friends with his former roommate.
"She was the definition of incredibility," Assistant State's Attorney Nicole Wilkes-English said, calling the woman's story "absurd and borderline insulting."
Assistant Public Defender Brian Jacobs, who said Hritz didn't want the bird to "go to waste" after he found it dead, countered there was "no proof at all" the defendant attacked his roommate and no medical evidence of how the bird died.
"You've heard testimony from one person who can say what happened, and what did she tell you under oath? She said David Hritz was not there," Jacobs said.
Kleeman said he found it hard to believe Hritz's first reaction after coming home to find his roommate beaten and his home ransacked would be to "filet" his bird.
Meanwhile, he said, the victim's initial story "makes perfect sense" and was consistent with the evidence.
"I think (the victim) felt bad about what happened with the defendant and she came up with a story only she could come up with," Kleeman said.
Hritz, who is free on bond, faces a maximum extended term of six years in prison because of his prior criminal record, which includes convictions for drug possession and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, prosecutors said.
Hritz, who also kept tarantulas and lizards as pets, said through his attorney he plans to appeal his conviction. His next court date is Aug. 6.