By STEVEN WARD
GONZALES -- Twenty-third Judicial District Judge Ralph Tureau set a date Monday of March 8 to set a trial date for an Ascension Parish man accused of torturing and killing his girlfriend's dog in December 2002.
Nicholas Matassa, 22, 224 W. Bordelon St., Gonzales, was booked Jan. 7, 2003, with one count of cruelty to an animal and one count of unauthorized entry of an inhabited dwelling.
Twenty-third Judicial District Attorney Tony Falterman said Monday that the crime was one of the "most heinous" he had ever seen and the dog -- Shades, an 8-year-old golden retriever -- was definitely tortured before being killed.
Falterman said Matassa is accused of breaking into his girlfriend's Pelican Point home on La. 44 when no one was there on Dec. 23, 2002, and taping the dog's muzzle with duct tape.
"He then beat the dog to death and dragged it all around. There was blood all over the place," Falterman said.
Falterman said his understanding of the case is that Matassa was trying to get revenge on his girlfriend -- 20-year-old Danielle Balint -- because the two were having problems.
Cindy Balint, Danielle's mother and owner of the dog, said she contacted People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals after she found out that Matassa pleaded not guilty to the charge in December and his attorney filed a motion to have the charges dropped.
"I was worried that nothing was going to happen to him because of who his dad is," Cindy Balint, now a resident of East Baton Rouge Parish, said Monday.
Matassa's father is Kenny Matassa, a Gonzales city councilman and supervisor of the Ascension Parish Health Unit, which oversees the parish animal shelter and animal control in the parish.
Kenny Matassa and his son, who were both in court Monday, declined comments about the case because it is pending.
Falterman said dropping the charges was never a possibility.
"Look, PETA or Kenny Matassa, who is a friend of mine this thing was going to be prosecuted either way," Falterman said. "I read the file, and I don't care who is involved, this case needs to be prosecuted."
Falterman said the only reason the case has taken so long to get close to trial is because Nicholas Matassa had been out of state for awhile for some kind of medical rehabilitation.
Cindy Balint said she's not interested in Nicholas Matassa going to jail.
"That does not matter to me. I just want him to take responsibility for this, and I want this on his record. This is serious, and I believe he could become violent with a person in the future. He always had a violent temper," Balint said.
Balint said that Nick Matassa and his parents all admitted to the family that Matassa had killed the dog.
Ascension Parish Sheriff Jeff Wiley said that his agency did not conduct a criminal investigation into the matter because Danielle Balint told the deputy who responded to the call that she first wanted to talk to her parents, who were out of town at the time, about pressing charges. Wiley said that before his agency could proceed any further, the family went to a justice of the peace to have charges filed against Matassa.
According to the Justice of the Peace Court records and Balint, a veterinarian said that Shades "sustained powerful blows, had head trauma, chest and abdomen injuries, major liver and kidney damage, internal bleeding and eight broken bones." Balint also said that the dog's mouth was wrapped with duct tape during the beating and there was blood, feces and overturned furniture and plants all over the house.
Balint said that what Matassa used to beat the dog was unclear, but found at the scene were a pool cue with scratches and dog teeth marks on it, a hard plastic "chuck-it" dog toy that was broken and a 3-foot wand from the kitchen mini-blinds.
PETA cruelty caseworker Jean Gaultier said Friday that animal abusers "take their issues out on the most defenseless beings available to them. Area residents have a reason to be concerned."
Balint said her family has filed a civil lawsuit against Nick Matassa. She said she is not interested in money but wanted to file the lawsuit just in case the criminal charges did not pan out with Matassa taking responsibility for what happened.
If convicted on both counts, which are felonies, Matassa could receive a maximum penalty of six years in prison for the unauthorized entry charge and 10 years in prison for the cruelty to animal charge.
Falterman said he believes that because of scheduling conflicts, the trial may not come up until May.