Former NFL player Terrence Cody was sentenced to nine months in jail last week by a Baltimore County judge after being convicted of a series of misdemeanors in a 2015 case involving the starvation death of his dog.
In January of 2015, Cody, who played for the Baltimore Ravens from 2010 to 2014, brought his Canary Mastiff, Taz, to the vet. The dog was severely emaciated and underweight by about 50 pounds and died hours later, prosecutor Adam Lippe tells PEOPLE.
While Cody was convicted of misdemeanor neglect charges in last November’s bench trial, he was acquitted of two felony counts of animal cruelty. (Cody’s girlfriend, Kourtney J. Kelley, was also found guilty of neglect charges in November and sentenced to 60 days in prison.) For a felony conviction, prosecutors would have had to prove Cody tortured Taz intentionally, Lippe says.
According to the Baltimore Sun, Judge Judith C. Ensor said in November she did not think Cody intentionally tortured the dog and she reiterated her belief last Thursday.
But prosecutors believe Cody starved Taz intentionally, which was tantamount to torture. Lippe says that Cody didn’t feed Taz “a minimum of four weeks, up to ten,” during which Taz went without food.
He adds, “The vet did an autopsy and there was nothing wrong with the dog. This was a 100 percent starvation case.”
He says Cody kept Taz in a crate in a garage during the winter where he was surrounded by his own excrement, urine and blood – the last of which Lippe says was caused by when Taz began “shedding the lining of its intestine” because he was starving. Lippe described the garage in which Taz was held as a “house of horrors.”
Lippe says Cody and Kelley had two other dogs who were well-cared for. He says Cody’s treatment of Taz was consistent with a pattern prosecutors see with child abuse cases.
“We see this a lot: It’s a nice, happy family, but you’ll see this one child is horribly abused,” Lippe says.
“He treated [Taz] like a guard dog; it wasn’t a family pet,” Lippe adds. “What I surmise is that this dog did something. He did something where [Cody] said, ‘You’re going into the penalty box.'”
Cody’s attorney, Joe Murtha, tells PEOPLE Taz was put in the garage because Cody believed he had worms. At trial, Cody testified that he was feeding Taz two or three pounds of food a day, but that Taz couldn’t keep food down and kept vomiting. The prosecution disputed this claim, saying autopsy reports showed Taz wasn’t rejecting food.
“He clearly misidentified what was wrong with the dog and let the lack of treatment go beyond what it should have,” Murtha says, adding that Cody had “somewhat limited knowledge of how to care for the dog, and he reached a conclusion.”
Murtha also cited that Cody brought Taz to the vet before he died, and even cried when told the news. “A person who is trying to kill their dog isn’t taking their dog to the vet and asking for an autopsy,” Murtha says. “It goes to the fact that this was neglect as opposed to the intent.”
But Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore, a forensic veterinary investigator who testified for the prosecution, believes that the word “neglect” doesn’t accurately convey how Cody treated Taz.
“‘Neglect’ is a passive word, one describing an act of omission. There came a point during this dog’s protracted suffering that his owners decided to deny him care,” she wrote in an email to PEOPLE.
“Taz was killed,” she added. “In my opinion he was murdered by starvation abuse.”
Murtha says that following a 2014 hip surgery, Cody “was probably clinically depressed but wasn’t being treated, so he wasn’t attuned to anything going on in his life.”
He says Cody, who signed a multimillion dollar contract as a second round draft pick out of the University of Alabama in 2010, “says he’s out of money” and that his NFL career is likely over. “No one seems to be interested in him,” Murtha says.
Cody was also convicted in November of two misdemeanor drug charges related to marijuana and paraphernalia possession. Lippe says authorities found “six-foot bongs [and] gas mask bongs.” He was also convicted of possession of an alligator and neglect of the alligator.
As part of his sentence, Cody can’t own or possess animals.