In the end, it was the dog walker’s accusers who stepped in it.
A Fairfax County jury deliberated for less than 20 minutes Tuesday before exonerating a Fairfax woman of failing to clean up after Baxter, the fluffy Westie-bichon frise mix she cares for.
The verdict came after a tense, funny and strange day-long trial that featured photos of dog piles submitted as evidence, a lengthy dissection of Baxter’s diet and a witness who brought a bag of poop to the courthouse, although not inside.
Virginia and Christine Cornell had accused next-door neighbor Kimberly Zakrzewski of violating the county’s “pooper scooper” law by allowing the pooch to relieve himself on the grounds of their condominium complex, near Route 50.
“This case wasn’t about whether I picked up after Baxter. It was about two women who wanted to harass me,” a teary Zakrzewski said shortly after the verdict was read and her supporters clapped. “I can only hope this verdict will be the end of the harassment for me.”
The enmity between Zakrzewski and the Cornell sisters was palpable. All three testified that they had feuded for years and felt unsafe in one another’s presence. Police were regularly called to their building over accusations of slashed tires, damaged doormats and more.
The Cornell sisters testified that Zakrzewski failed to pick up after Baxter on three days in March and April and that they overheard her boasting to a neighbor that she did it to annoy them.
The Cornells photographed Baxter’s alleged waste, and the pictures were submitted as evidence. Christine Cornell said on the stand that the sisters went so far as to shadow Zakrzewski and Baxter one day, hiding behind a tree and snapping pictures surreptitiously.
“Not once during these three days did [Zakrzewski] bend down or did she produce a doggie bag,” Christine Cornell testified.
Zakrzewski testified that she carried a supply of plastic bags and always cleaned up after Baxter. But perhaps the strongest testimony for Zakrzewski — and the most surreal moment of the trial— came when Michelle Berman, Baxter’s owner, took the stand.
“Is that consistent with the stool Baxter creates?” Zakrzewski’s attorney, Kosa So, asked Berman, presenting a photograph that the defense had submitted as evidence.
Berman glanced over and answered definitively: “I’ve never seen something that big come out of my little dog.”
Earlier, Berman said she had brought a bag of Baxter’s poop to the courthouse in case it was needed as evidence. She had left it in her car. The revelation prompted a quip from Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush.
“I don’t think you would have gotten it through security,” Roush said.