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Morton to spend 90 days in jail after guilty verdict

Elizabeth James Morton

  • Jury convicts on lesser charge

The Laurens woman who infamously allowed a dog to starve nearly to death in her backyard in 2018 will spend the next 90 days in jail after a jury convicted her Thursday afternoon of ill-treatment of animals.

Elizabeth James Morton was found guilty by the jury of six men and six women, and Judge Donald B. Hocker imposed the maximum sentence of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. The jury deliberated for about one hour, 20 minutes before delivering its verdict.

While the jury found Morton guilty of felony ill-treatment of animals, it did not grant the prosecution’s wish for a guilty verdict on a portion of the state law that includes harsher punishments for “torture and torment” of the animals in question. If Morton had been convicted on that section of the statute, she could have received up to five years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Prosecuting attorney Warren Mowry argued that leaving the Mastiff mix later called Champ, which had belonged to Morton’s ex-boyfriend, without food or water and infested with maggots and hook worms constituted “torture and torment” under state law.

The jury disagreed, recognizing that Morton had abused the dog but stopping short of convicting her on the section of the statute that included the harshest penalties.

Morton took the stand in her own defense Thursday morning, breaking down in tears several times on the witness stand while admitting that she “could have done more” for the dog she knew as Ace.

Public Defenders Joel Broome and Catherine West said the conviction on the lesser charge was exactly what they sought as they attempted to reach a plea arrangement soon after Morton was arrested.

They portrayed Morton as a woman overwhelmed financially and emotionally after her husband, who also testified in her defense Thursday morning, had moved out following an argument. They said hook worms caused the dog’s poor condition, which included being about half of its normal bodyweight, not starvation.

They also asked Hocker for leniency before sentencing.

He declined that request.

“I can’t believe that you allowed the dog to get in that condition,” Hocker said, speaking directly to Morton before passing sentence. “It’s hard for me to wrap my arms around that.”

The story of Champ gained national and international attention after his rescue from the home. Mowry announced during sentencing that the dog is living “a good life” in Delaware and Florida with his new family.

For more trial coverage, read Wednesday’s edition of the Advertiser.



  1. Kim Tyson on May 28, 2021 at 12:57 am

    Laws need to change to allow outright neglect of common care (such as treating for hookworms) leading to life threatening illness should be classified as “torture and torment”. Ridiculous that laws meant to protect animals allows these harmful interpretations that result in mlld consequences.

    • Patti Leslie on May 28, 2021 at 11:38 am

      Sorry. Not good enough. This was a case of neglect and torture. Should have gotten the maximum. Laws need to be tougher to prevent more of this. Humans need to be kinder. Stop abusing animals period!!!!

  2. Mel on May 28, 2021 at 1:02 am

    How could these ridiculous excuses for public defenders actually justify what this woman did to a living being who depended on Morton for basic rights to life? She had so many options if she was “financially and emotionally overwhelmed”. She could have turned him in to a shelter or a rescue group or made any effort at all to rehome him. What she did instead was a prolonged, concerted effort to torture and starve him. She deserves to be punished in a much more fitting manner; 90 days is slap on the wrist.

    • Landy on May 28, 2021 at 4:13 pm

      Omg. 90 days. *** Lucky I wasn’t the judge. That poor baby suffered everyday. That’s a sorry ***

  3. Sandra Bradley on May 28, 2021 at 4:45 am

    Absolutely disgraceful!!! If this disgusting individual had left a child tied to the fence and starved it, the punishment would have been alot more than 90days in jail – there is no difference between a child and a dog!! Both have emotions, feelings and intelligence and both require food an water to survive!!! Shame on this jury and shame on the defence lawyers – there is no defence for this evil and abhorrent crime

    • colleen budgell on January 11, 2023 at 2:24 pm

      agreed this woman is not even human mabye the harsher punishment would enable her to have reap what you sew… How can her life mean anything to anyone who knows her

  4. Janine on May 28, 2021 at 5:47 am

    Wow! This is truly disgusting. The jury should be ashamed of themselves. In what universe is deliberately starving a living thing and making it watch while others eat, not torture? They had a chance to set precedent so the next time someone does this they get real consequences. They blew it. There have been other high profile cases of animal abuse in the county. Thanks to them there will be many more. Elizabeth ***************** should be treated the same way she treated that poor dog. That woman’s tears, finances, and marital problems do not excuse her callous behaviour. Abusers usually start with animals. I wonder how a person relying on her for care will be treated in the future if they upset her fragile emotions or her finances are stressing her out.

  5. Amy on May 28, 2021 at 7:05 am

    I am absolutely disgusted. If this had been.a human the just would have convicted. When are people going treat animals like the living, breathing, feeling beings they are. Every person on this jury needs to think about the consequences of their judgement; torture will continue.

  6. Angie Cleary on May 28, 2021 at 7:34 am

    The laws/country is so screwed up…..AT LEAST the wretch was tried…..a big step in the right direction. Must say animal activists have done a fabulous job, compared to the past. Hope she has a miserable 90 days.

  7. Deb Waites on May 28, 2021 at 8:55 am

    How can what she did not be torture and torement?
    A dog, chained to a fence. Unable to even try to forage for food or water, slowing dying while watching a person they depended on and counted on come and go? That’s not torture? That’s not torment?

  8. Marjorie Caldon on May 28, 2021 at 9:05 am

    I am a volunteer with the rescue that saved Champ, Rescue Dogs RockNew York City. Champ is now living his best life loved and cherished and adored.

    This poor excuse for a human being, was let off the hook. Believe me if I was on the jury she would be serving the five years. It doesn’t matter that he has hookworms she still was starving the dog for over a month no water no food and feeding her dogs in front of him. Not getting him the vetting that he needed. She is a disgrace to the human species but then again the human species is a disgrace in general the animal kingdom is much better than humans.

    It disgusts me that this jury did nit convict her on the harsher charge. ****************************************** We need harsher laws in this country with regard to animal abuse and neglect.

    • Victoria on May 28, 2021 at 5:01 pm

      This is ridiculous! How can she have not gotten the maximum sentence. This sickens me to my soul. Laws are not fair for our beloved fur babies!! They have feelings too!! I just hope Karma kicks her where the sun don’t shine. 90 days is a joke!

    • Carole on May 29, 2021 at 1:11 am

      I follow the work that RDRNYC does and that you see firsthand. I absolutely agree with you.. that demon of a woman is an absolute disgrace to the human race. The reason I am commenting on your post is to shout out, loud and clear, that the animal kingdom IS and ALWAYS WILL BE better than humans and I will never give up on being their voice! ♥️🐾♥️🐾

  9. Erin on May 28, 2021 at 9:25 am

    This waste of space need to rot in a cell, infected with hookworms and maggots like this dog was left to suffer. This judge and jury needs to re-examine their lives in light of what they let this “woman” get away with.

  10. Kirsten Pekola on May 28, 2021 at 9:52 am

    “She broke down in tears…” Where were her tears when she left Champ slowing dying a tortured and painful death tied to a tree in her yard? Any human who can go on with life while a living being is starving to death in her own yard lacks any sense of empathy or responsibility. I wonder if a tear escaped from her eye when she later moved and abandoned her own dog to fend for itself? Yet another mess for others to clean up. Ninety days in jail is a disgrace and not even worth the tax payer dollars to prosecute this case. Clearly animal protection laws need to change.

  11. Cyndi Goorsky on May 28, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    I have been following this since day one and yes I contributed to Champ’s recovery fees. I too can not understand why they were unable to convict her on the harsher charge however, I wasn’t there to hear all testimony or see all the evidence presented. I am happy to hear she was convicted and her record will follow her. Now we all can hope and pray she is in jail for the full 90 days and not eligible for early release. She needs some sort of accountability for what she did to that poor animal. Also, blessings to the neighbor that took the action he did!

  12. Been Martin on May 28, 2021 at 2:49 pm

    I’ve followed this story since I first saw the photos of poor Champ on Rescue Dogs Rock FB page, and yes, happily donated for his care. It was almost unbelievable that he was still alive and then that he survived the torture at the hands of this monster. I have NO sympathy for this woman or her situation, she had options, Champ didn’t, he only had her. I hope the people on the jury are proud of themselves for allowing this abuser to get off with such a light sentence. The only bright side to this story is that Champ has and will have a wonderful, loving, pampered life… the monster lady will not.

  13. Linda M Dickson on May 28, 2021 at 4:35 pm

    This case was the definition of torture, neglect and severe animal abuse. Beyond me why the jury didn’t find her guilty of all the charges. Angry! I have followed Champ’s story since the day he was found. Thank God he now has a loving family that treats him with love and compassion. ******************************

  14. Fara on May 28, 2021 at 10:27 pm

    I wish she would have gotten the harshest penalty possible. Our pets are worthy of defending and protecting.

  15. Anne on May 29, 2021 at 2:22 am

    Sentence is not long enough. She needs a longer sentence for the way she treated this poor dog.

  16. Lynne on May 31, 2021 at 1:34 pm

    While this cruel woman didn’t get what she deserved, the fact that she is going to jail and paying a fine is unusual in the animal cruelty world. Most abusers never get charged. But the neighbor who intervened, RDR who saved his life, and everyone including the prosecutors put together a case that could be proven. Thankfully the judge gave her the max and hopefully others will be disinclined to do the same thing to another animal. In most of this country she would have gotten off with a fine or not even charged. Don’t despair that she didn’t get more. Like I said, in most of this country she wouldn’t even have been charged. I live in the Midwest and have seen horrendous cruelty cases involving puppy mills and backyard breeders, and most of the time they aren’t even charged. My home town in Iowa last year charged a woman with many cruelty charges and she was found guilty but her only punishment–all her animals were removed, even her personal animals who lived in the house and she didn’t get them back. She wasn’t jailed and she didn’t pay a fine. So please consider that Champ did get his victory and his revenge. What a beautiful, wonderful dog he is and I hope he will have a very long and happy life.

  17. Karen jenkins on June 1, 2021 at 4:01 pm

    Shame on the jury. Shame on the public defenders. Shame on the judge. This sentence is a joke and it’s the precise reason that abuse continues unabated. No one is worried about the punishment! This “woman” is anything but. She has no sense is compassion, no accountability, no remorse. ************************** She deserves no sympathy or understanding from anyone. She is a disgrace and she isn’t worth the cot she will sleep on. I’m disgusted with the judicial system…it is broken. Thank God for Champs resilience and thank God for his family’s love and care. We will not quit fighting for these precious souls.

  18. Demian on June 8, 2022 at 5:10 pm

    90 days is a disgusting JOKE!! And her lies in court & under oath she should be charged with perjury maybe she would actually be punished for something! This jury should be ashamed of itself. Nothing more clear and INTENTIONAL than this case.

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