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Judge sentences Hampstead woman to 7 years after dogs found dead in ‘chamber of horrors’

A woman was sentenced in Carroll County Circuit Court to serve seven years for aggravated animal cruelty after police found 27 dogs dead and 27 alive in deplorable conditions on Black Rock Road in Hampstead last year.

Judge Fred S. Hecker on Tuesday sentenced 56-year-old Laura Filler to serve 33 years, with all but seven years and seven days suspended, for 11 counts of aggravated animal cruelty. Probation was set at five years, and she is not permitted to possess animals during that time.

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Filler will get credit for 480 days served. She’s been held without bond since April 8, 2019.

“I’m very sorry all this happened,” Filler said before Hecker issued the sentence.

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Originally charged with 109 counts, most of which were related to animal cruelty, Filler pleaded guilty to 11 counts Oct. 7, 2019.

Filler and her husband John J. Roberts, 50, were arrested in April 2019 after animal control officers found 38 dogs, 11 of which were dead, at the Black Rock Road property they rented. Days later, an additional 16 dogs were found dead there. They had been operating an unlicensed breeding operation, according to the Office of the State’s Attorney for Carroll County.

Roberts pleaded guilty to 11 counts of aggravated animal cruelty in October and was sentenced to 33 years in prison, suspending all but 11 years and 11 days.

Melissa Hockensmith, senior assistant state’s attorney for Carroll County, showed in court Tuesday two videos of the house on April 8, 2019, after the living dogs had been removed by first responders. Hecker described the videos as depicting a “chamber of horrors.” Sludge covered the ground and was smeared on the walls from floor to ceiling, grime clung to dog crates and moldy dog food was littered throughout the house. Decaying remains filled the bathtub, Hockensmith said, and the remains of some dogs were also found in a shed on the property, she said.

The state requested that Filler serve the same sentence as Roberts. Filler’s public defenders, Janette DeBoissiere and Lee McNulty, asked for six years with all but two years suspended. They called upon a psychiatrist, Joanna Brandt, who testified that she diagnosed Filler with battered spouse syndrome and three mental health disorders.

The defense asserted Filler was controlled and abused by Roberts, who DeBoissiere said was the “main reason” for what happened. DeBoissiere said Filler’s role was aiding and abetting.

Roberts’ attorney, William Welch III, did not return a voicemail Tuesday evening.

DeBoissiere asked Brandt her opinion of why things got so bad with the dogs. Brandt testified that Filler feared Roberts and felt she couldn’t leave him. Brandt said Filler also worried the dogs would be taken to a shelter and euthanized if she reported him.

Hockensmith called Ed Smith, Carroll County animal control officer, to testify. Smith spoke to when he served the search warrant for Filler’s car, which was parked on the property by the house. The defense alleged Filler was living in her car, had not been in the house for months prior to her arrest and was unaware of how bad the conditions were. Smith said police found dirty women’s shoes in the vehicle that appeared to have the same matter on them as what was found inside the house.

Hockensmith suggested Filler would have noticed the sludge on Roberts and smelled the odor that would have clung to him whenever he went into the house.

Filler was ordered to pay restitution of about $10,900 to the Humane Society of Carroll County, which took in the rescued dogs. She was also ordered to pay $91,400 in restitution to the Dennis and Sharon Chiodi Living Trust, which owned the Black Rock Road house and property. Roberts and Filler are together responsible for paying the restitution.

The defense initially challenged the restitution for the living trust based on the lease agreement. McNulty argued the tax assessment of the house, which has been demolished, was not an accurate enough assessment of the home’s value.

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A representative of the Chiodi living trust said the home, originally bought for $109,000, was sold for the value of the land, about $30,000, after Roberts and Filler were evicted. The representative also testified they saw Filler’s car outside the house multiple times a week prior to the arrest.

As the time for Hecker to make his decision drew closer, Hockensmith said, “I think that these dogs deserve justice.”

Hecker said he felt Filler was culpable, but not to the same extent as Roberts.

“She had to know about the torture and mistreatment,” Hecker said, and at best, Filler exhibited “extreme indifference” to the dogs’ suffering.

He said he felt there needed to be punishment, but believes Filler needs help with her mental health.

In issuing the sentence, Hecker said he would recommend Filler to the Patuxent Institution, a correctional mental health center in Jessup, for mental health treatment. He said she should undergo psychotherapy with a therapist.

The sentencing proceedings lasted about seven hours.

Hockensmith said she felt the judge issued a fair sentence.

In an interview outside the courtroom, DeBoissiere asked for prayers for the dogs, for the owners of the Black Rock Road property and for Filler.

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