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Fort Wayne man sentenced in fire torture of kitten

Sparkle, after months of treatment, has been placed with a new owner.

FORT WAYNE – Abusing a kitten netted a prison sentence of one year and one year on probation for a 23-year-old Fort Wayne man.

In December, Matthew Jerome pleaded guilty to two Class D-felonies of torturing or mutilating a vertebrate animal and a misdemeanor charge of cruelty to an animal.

Allen Superior Judge Wendy Davis accepted Jerome's guilty plea, and sentenced him to three years on each felony charge, but ordered one year served behind bars, two years suspended and one year to be served on probation. She handed down a one-year suspended sentence on the misdemeanor charge. All sentences are to be served at the same time.

Jerome is also prohibited from possessing any pets while he is on probation, and must undergo a psychological evaluation and complete community service.

Jerome was charged with the crimes in August, accused of abusing Sparkle, a kitten police believe was dropped into a fire.

A neighbor heard the kitten crying and found her in the backyard of a home in the 4500 block of Foxgrove Avenue. The neighbor took the kitten to Fort Wayne Animal Care & Control. The kitten's tail fur was singed, she had no facial whiskers and her paws were burned, according to court documents.

The cat belonged to Jerome's girlfriend, and she told investigators he didn't want the cat and often complained about her presence.

When he was questioned by investigators, Jerome said he "could have burned the kitten's whiskers while flicking his lighter" and "that he may have 'bumped' the kitten into the fire," according to court documents.

An animal cruelty expert said the kitten's paws were burned in a way that was more consistent with having been dropped into a fire, and that the appearance of the burns suggested it was done on purpose, according to court documents.

In October, Sparkle was adopted by a Fort Wayne woman, one of a dozen people who sought to take the kitten into their home. Lynne Ticen was selected by a lottery after her application was approved.

Sparkle's burns have healed and her whiskers have grown back.

"We feel this was an appropriate resolution to the case," said Chief Deputy Allen County Prosecutor Michael McAlexander. "Hopefully people will understand that we do take crimes against animals very seriously."