The decision originated from a 2016 murder case in Chester County, Pennsylvania when a teenage witness with autism was allowed to use an emotional support dog to accompany her on the witness stand. In an appeal filed by the defendant, Sheron Purnell argued that the presence of the dog swayed the jury to decide on a guilty verdict.
Sheron Purnell was sentenced to 47 years for the fatal shooting of a man in Coatesville in October 2016.
During the trial, County Judge David F. Bortner allowed the witness to have a dog named Melody to help lessen the fears of a teenage girl testifying in the murder trial. The dog was brought inside the courtroom before the jurors were present and were remained hidden inside the witness stand while the girl testified.
The jurors were also instructed to not let the dog’s presence affect their decision as well as develop sympathy for the witness. On the other hand, the defendant’s lawyers argued that the judge abused his discretion and led to the defendant’s getting convicted.
The Supreme Court sided with the County Judge’s decision and found that the guilty verdict was not due to the sympathy the witness received from the jurors. The court stated, “We note that there is nothing on the record to suggest that the comfort dog was in any way disruptive to the trial.”