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A 1998 animal cruelty charge has returned to bite a Billings Heights legislative candidate who shot his neighbor’s dog.

Republican Roger Webb, campaigning to replace Democrat Kim Gillan in the Montana Senate, shot his neighbor’s black Labrador with a .357 magnum pistol, killing the dog at Webb’s 1132 Ginger Road home. Webb insisted that the Labrador was aggressive and the shooting was justified. He entered what's known as an Alford plea, which allows a defendant to not admit the acts with which he’s charged but merely acknowledge that the prosecution was likely to prove its case. Municipal Judge Mary Jane Knisely gave Webb two three-month deferred sentences, one for animal cruelty and one for disorderly conduct.

After three months, Knisely dismissed the charges and Webb’s court case was sealed to keep the documents from public view. But copies of Webb’s court file began circulating on the Internet on Sunday and arrived in the mail at The Billings Gazette on Monday. The source of the release is anonymous.

“Fifteen years ago, I was attacked by a dog in my own front yard and I defended myself,” Webb said Monday. “I have documentation, because I hired a private investigator at the time, that the dog had attacked a FedEx driver and UPS and the owner’s neighbor.”

Webb said the attacks against him have been ugly since absentee ballots were mailed out Oct. 9. He said Monday that he didn’t know who leaked the sealed documents, which appeared Sunday on a liberal political blog and on Twitter.

Webb’s opponent for Gillan’s seat is Democrat Wanda Grinde. Gillan is the Democratic nominee to replace Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., in the U.S. House.

"I have no idea who is doing that. I have no idea," Grinde said Monday. "I can't really respond to that. I've been distressed to hear this news."

The documents state that on Aug. 8, 1998, Webb struck a neighbor’s black Lab with his pistol and then proceeded to shoot the dog as it ran away. The bullet not only killed the dog but also ricocheted into a second dog, also a black Labrador.

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Webb told the court that on the night of the incident, the dogs charged down a hill toward him as he walked outside to lock his pickup. One of the dogs was barking and showing its teeth, reported Webb, who jumped into the bed of his pickup, staying there until the dogs left. Webb said he went inside his house, retrieved a pistol and headed up the hill the dogs descended. He intended to tell the owner about the incident but was unsuccessful. On the way home, the dogs confronted him again, he said. This time, Webb struck one of the dogs as it lunged at him and then fired.

Webb’s closest neighbors, Gordon and Crystal Gertula, told police that they heard no commotion outside before hearing Webb’s single shot.

The dogs’ owner, Lyla Mercer, said she also didn’t hear barking, only a shot as she waited at the animals' kennel, which they had escaped.

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Agriculture and Politics Reporter

Politics and agriculture reporter for The Billings Gazette.