Rhinelander-area man convicted of animal mistreatment for dog’s death
Robert J. Runnerstrom to be sentenced March 2
BY KEVIN BONESKE
A 29-year-old Rhinelander-area man who was accused of mistreating a dog in a cruel manner that caused the animal’s death last May entered a no-contest plea Monday in Oneida County Circuit Court.
In exchange for Robert J. Runnerstrom accepting a plea offer from the district attorney’s office to be convicted on a felony charge of animal mistreatment, misdemeanor counts of possessing drug paraphernalia and bail jumping and a separate charge of operating after revocation have been dismissed.
Judge Michael H. Bloom, who approved the plea offer, ordered a pre-sentenced investigation and set Runnerstrom’s sentencing hearing for March 2. Bloom also revoked Runnerstrom’s bond so that he will remain in custody prior to sentencing.
Runnerstrom faces a maximum possible penalty of 18 months of initial confinement in prison, followed by two years of extended supervision, and/or a $10,000 fine.
However, district attorney Michael W. Schiek said during Monday’s plea hearing that he would be bound by the recommendation in the pre-sentence report as to the maximum sentence he could seek. Though he wouldn’t be seeking a fine to be imposed, Schiek noted he favored having Runnerstrom pay $1,800 in restitution, as well as undergo an alcohol and other drug abuse assessment and mental health treatment, along with not being allowed to own an animal.
Runnerstrom’s attorney, Mary L. Roth Burns, said she will be recommending at the sentencing hearing that her client be placed on probation.
“With the conditions that the state requested, we have no objections to those, so we’ll be requesting a probation resolution with a withheld sentence,” Roth Burns said.
In the event a prison sentence would be imposed, Roth Burns noted Runnerstrom would receive credit for the time he has already served in jail prior to sentencing, which is now around 130 days.
Had a plea agreement not been reached, the case was scheduled to go to trial Wednesday. Roth Burns said Runnerstrom didn’t want others associated with the case to “have to go through the stress of a jury trial.”
“This offer seemed to be the best we could do under the circumstances,” she said. “Now we’ll wait for the Department of Corrections to make a pre-sentence investigation report, and we’ll go from there in early March.”
Runnerstrom was taken into custody when, according to court records, on May 28 at approximately 7:04 p.m. the Oneida County dispatch center received a 911 call reporting someone had killed a dog at a residence in the town of Crescent. The caller stated that Runnerstrom, who informed the caller the dog was dead, had poisoned the dog of the caller’s boyfriend.
Law enforcement officers who were part of a react team responded to the scene when it was unknown whether Runnerstrom, who had outstanding warrants for his arrest, was still at the residence.
Court records further state Runnerstrom was taken into custody and sheriff’s deputies began to look outside for the dog when it wasn’t located in the residence. A bag that contained the dog was discovered outside under a tree. The bag started to move when a deputy grabbed it with the dog still alive inside, moving and breathing.
Deputy Nancy Reklau, who has been certified as the county’s humane officer and was also on the scene, then took the dog to Rhinelander to have emergency services done on it at Animal Health Care Center. According to a sheriff’s department report, the dog had a skull fracture and some bruising underneath the belly area.
Reklau, who testified at Runnerstrom’s preliminary hearing June 16 about the dog ultimately dying from blunt force trauma to the head, stated a wooden spindle from a chair, which was taken as evidence, had been found at the residence next to bloodied, foamy vomit.
Reklau also testified about the man who owned the dog informing her Runnerstrom had previously threatened to kill the dog, while Runnerstrom’s girlfriend stated that on the day of the incident she had gotten into an argument with Runnerstrom, who was consuming intoxicants.