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Trial begins for seal pup torture suspect

Posted: 7:19 AM, Dec 08, 2015
Updated: 2015-12-08 15:19:28Z
SAN DIEGO -- Opening statements are scheduled Tuesday in the trial of a homeless man accused of torturing and killing an elephant seal pup by hitting it in the head with a rock near Harbor Island.
  
Roy Lee Miller, 45, faces up to five years in state prison if convicted of cruelty to an endangered or protected animal.
  
Witness Mark Valentine testified at a preliminary hearing in September that he and Miller were drinking vodka near Spanish Landing on Feb. 27 when they heard the Northern elephant seal making "ungodly" sounds, worse than a baby screaming.
  
Valentine said he thought there was something wrong with the seal, speculating that it might have swallowed a hook. He said Miller told him that the seal "needs to be put out of its misery."
  
Valentine said he walked away and later told authorities that Miller might have hit the seal with a rock. The witness said Miller cried the next day when he talked about what happened.
  
Kerri Danil, a research biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the seal pup -- thought to be about a month old -- had multiple skull fractures.
  
A marine mammal veterinarian testified that the seal pup -- not normally found in San Diego Bay -- was fine and making normal seal "calls" when she observed the animal on Feb. 27.
  
The veterinarian said a lay person could think that a seal was in distress if they heard the "unique" pup calls.
  
Harbor police Detective Robert Twardy testified that Miller approached him after the detective found the seal's body on the beach.   
 
"He said he was responsible for putting the seal out of its misery," Twardy testified.
  
When asked why he didn't call 911 when he came upon the seal, Miller said he didn't know and was "distraught," Twardy testified.