Michael Ray Howard

OGDEN — A man who stuffed 14 puppies in a sack and tossed them outside on a cold winter night to die pleaded guilty Monday to several misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty and an unrelated felony charge of drug possession.

Michael Ray Howard, 35, pleaded guilty to 13 charges of aggravated cruelty to animals, a class A misdemeanor, for the puppies that died. He entered a guilty plea to a charge of animal cruelty, which is a class B misdemeanor, for the one animal that lived.

Howard also pleaded guilty to a separate charge of possessing methamphetamine, a third-degree felony.

These pleas were all part of a complex agreement involving four separate cases against Howard, three of which were drug-related. The other three included felonies and misdemeanors involving drug possession, drug paraphernalia and one charge of driving without a license.

He is scheduled to be sentenced before 2nd District Judge Roger Dutson on July 7.

Dutson accepted the prosecutor's request to dismiss the other various charges, but cautioned Howard that the state court is not bound by recommendations from plea bargains reached by prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The lawyers had agreed as part of the plea deal to ask that sentences for the crimes to which Howard pleaded guilty would run concurrently, but Dutson is free to impose any sentence permitted by law and can order it to run consecutively or concurrently with others.

A class A misdemeanor can carry a year in jail; a class B misdemeanor can carry a sentence of six months in jail; and a third-degree felony can bring a sentence of up to five years in prison.

In addition, Howard soon will be in federal court on one of the state cases that was dismissed: possessing a controlled substance with the intent to distribute, a first-degree felony.

Howard put the Jack Russell terrier mix puppies in a bag, tied it and left it outside overnight on Dec. 9, 2007. The next morning, assuming they were all dead, he threw the bag in a trash container outside a Riverdale fabric store. A store employee heard whimpering and found the puppies. Several tipsters helped police zero in on Howard.

After the animal cruelty charges had been filed, Howard failed to make a court appearance, and the Weber-Morgan Narcotic Strike Force arrested him shortly afterward as part of a drug bust.

The surviving puppy, named Precious, found a home and is doing well.

E-mail: lindat@desnews.com