Buster – TOJ Early Success

Man is guilty in attack on dog

April, 2003
By CARY DAVIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2003

NEW PORT RICHEY — Buster the boxer left Pasco County months ago minus one eye and nursing a broken jaw. Since then, though, he has been living a pampered life with a family out West. The fortunes of the man who attacked Buster, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction.

Barry G. Colbert, 40, pleaded guilty Monday to a felony charge of animal cruelty. Combined with an earlier plea to an aggravated domestic battery charge for beating up his girlfriend, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

Colbert will be sentenced on both charges at a date still to be determined.
“He’s definitely looking at prison,” Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis said.

Colbert entered an open plea to both charges, which means he received no promises about a possible sentence from prosecutors or the judge. He essentially is putting himself at the mercy of Circuit Judge Daniel Diskey.

Colbert’s sentencing has been postponed while his attorney, assistant public defender Anne Wansboro, prepares a case asking for a lenient sentence. She has filed papers indicating her intention to seek a sentence below state guidelines on the basis that Colbert might have suffered from mental or psychological disorders when the crimes occurred. A psychologist who recently examined Colbert has recommended more testing, Wansboro told the judge Monday. Wansboro and her boss, 6th Circuit Public Defender Bob Dillinger, declined to comment on the case.

Colbert had no criminal record when he first ran into trouble in February 2000. Authorities say he got drunk and allowed his girlfriend’s 7-year-old son to drive his car. The boy wrecked, and Colbert, who took the wheel after the crash, was arrested for DUI, driving on a suspended license and allowing an unlicensed person to drive.

Days later, he was arrested again when investigators went to Colbert’s Moon Lake home to check on two children living there and found marijuana and drug paraphernalia. The charges from those two arrests still are pending. Colbert is scheduled to appear in court on those charges next week.

On March 15, 2002, for reasons still unclear, authorities say Colbert attacked Buster, his girlfriend’s pet, with a hammer. Hours later, deputies responding to a neighbor’s 911 call arrived to find Colbert repeatedly punching his girlfriend, Jacki Clever, in the head. Clever, who has since recovered, was airlifted to a St. Petersburg hospital. In that case, Colbert pleaded guilty in December to a felony charge of aggravated domestic battery.

Buster was found under a tree two days after he was attacked, malnourished and barely alive. The dog, then 10 months old, had a deep gash on his head, a broken jaw, and a left eye so severely damaged that veterinarians had no choice but to remove it. It didn’t take long for Buster to become the darling of animal lovers across the country, among them comedian Elayne Boosler of Los Angeles.

Donations poured in to cover Buster’s medical bills. Two months after the attack, Buster was flown to a new family out West as part of what Boosler dubbed the “boxer witness protection program.” Boosler, who helped find a new home for Buster, said the dog’s location would remain a secret because “Colbert vowed to finish him off.”

Court files in the case are filled with petitions and letters from dog lovers, each demanding a long prison stint for Colbert. Colbert remains in jail on $60,000 bail.

Buster And His Dad