A 65-year-old South Jersey man was sentenced Wednesday to five years in state prison for fatally shooting a neighbor’s dog, a 9-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix named Toby.

William Stroemel, of Maple Shade, had pleaded guilty in April to charges of weapon possession and animal cruelty. His sentence was part of a negotiated agreement.

But defense attorney Michael Mormando on Wednesday asked Burlington County Superior Court Judge Gerard Breland to reconsider the agreement and to sentence Stroemel to a probationary sentence instead based on new information.

Breland declined to give a reduced sentence, saying he needed to deter Stroemel and others from taking any similar actions in the firing of a weapon at an animal. As part of his plea, Stroemel is also prohibited from having contact with the dog’s owner and must pay $500 in restitution for his veterinary care.

Burlington County Superior Court Judge Gerard Breland presides at the virtual sentencing hearing of William Stroemel, 65, of Maple Shade, on Wednesday, in the fatal shooting of a neighbor's therapy dog, a 9-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix named Toby.
TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer
Burlington County Superior Court Judge Gerard Breland presides at the virtual sentencing hearing of William Stroemel, 65, of Maple Shade, on Wednesday, in the fatal shooting of a neighbor's therapy dog, a 9-year-old Pomeranian-poodle mix named Toby.

Toby was shot in the head after running from his home on Sept. 17, 2019. His owner, Robert Cook, was in his garage when he heard the dog’s cries and raced down the street to find Toby lying near the curb. The dog was euthanized the next day.

The investigation revealed that Stroemel, a heavy-equipment operator known as “Wild Willie,” shot the dog with an air rifle as it was passing his home in the street, the Prosecutor’s Office has said.

Mormando told the judge that Stroemel was not the “monster that was sort of painted in the media” and he and his client contended that the dog’s owner allegedly used the animal as bait. Stroemel said Cook regularly let his dog run away from his home as “an excuse” to entice boys to him. His attorney said there have been allegations that Cook has exposed himself to “people” in the neighborhood.

Stroemel told the judge during the hearing: “I can’t believe what I did. Something inside of me snapped that day. I was concerned about the safety of the kids in the neighborhood.”

Cook faces a pending charge of fourth-degree lewdness for allegedly having exposed himself to a woman in his neighborhood while standing in his driveway while partly naked and masturbating while looking toward her house in an area easily observed by children, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office and the criminal complaint against Cook, obtained Thursday.

Assistant Prosecutor Melissa O’Mara stressed during the hearing that Cook and his family are the victims in the case, and that Stroemel is going to state prison for his crime.

“Mr. Stroemel is not here because of things that Mr. Cook did or did not do,” she said. “Mr. Stroemel is here because he possessed a weapon he could not have, he used that weapon unlawfully in broad daylight and shot a dog in the middle of the street in Maple Shade, killing that dog, and then took that weapon and gave it to somebody else to hide.”

Cook, 74, was not in the courtroom for the hearing. His family has said that the dog helped Cook, a Vietnam War veteran, with post-traumatic stress disorder.

His granddaughter, Marissa Cook, 22, said by phone after the hearing that her grandfather did not expose himself to kids in the neighborhood. “My pop-pop is a good man,” she said.

She said he has been diagnosed with dementia, now lives in Florida, and doesn’t have a phone.

Correction: A previous version of this story imprecisely described what Stroemel said about allegations against Cook. It was Stroemel’s attorney who said allegations were made that Cook exposed himself to “people” in the neighborhood. The story has also now been updated to include the actual charge filed against Cook.