Case Snapshot
Case ID: 13951
Classification: Burning - Fire or Fireworks
Animal: dog (non pit-bull)
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Person(s) in animal care
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Prosecutor(s): Jimmie Harp
Judge(s): David Kimberley

For more information about the Interactive Animal Cruelty Maps, see the map notes.

Thursday, Apr 24, 2008

County: Etowah

Charges: Felony CTA, Felony Non-CTA
Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Jerry Wayne Handley, DVM

Case Updates: 4 update(s) available

Dr. Jerry Handley has confessed to setting fire to his animal clinic, shooting himself and making up a story that he surprised burglars last month, Etowah County Sheriff Todd Entrekin said.

Handley, 52, Hokes Bluff, was charged Wednesday afternoon with second-degree arson, seven felony counts of cruelty to animals and filing a false report to law enforcement officers. He remained in jail late Wednesday on a $100,000 bond.

Entrekin said Handley admitted staging the burglary and pouring gasoline throughout Handley Animal Clinic on U.S. Highway 411 near the Etowah and Cherokee county lines.

He did not give investigators a motive; however, Entrekin said one possibility is insurance money. A file had been opened with his insurance company but no money had been paid, Entrekin said.

Handley told investigators he came up with the idea that day and did not plan to shoot himself, but the fire got out of hand quicker than he expected, Entrekin said.

"He didn't intend for it to get the animals," Entrekin said.

He used his own 9 mm Glock to shoot himself to explain why he was still in the building.

"This is a sad day for the Handley family," Entrekin said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "There were no burglars. It was a scheme he came up with and carried out by himself."

The Etowah County 911 dispatch center received a 911 call at 8:39 p.m. April 24 from Handley's wife, Sandra, who said her husband had called her on his cell phone and told her he had been shot.

Julie Ballew, a 911 operator, called Handley on his cell phone, and he told her the clinic had been burglarized, that he had been shot, the building was on fire and he was trapped inside. That call lasted between 9 and 10 minutes.

Entrekin heard a radio call that a shooting had taken place. Minutes later, he received information that the building was on fire and someone was trapped inside.

Deputy Colt Gregory and Hokes Bluff police officer Tyler Roe reached the clinic just before Entrekin. Unsure if a suspect was still inside the building, firefighters could not go in until law enforcement officers secured the building.

Entrekin, Roe and Gregory went in and found Handley in a hallway about 20 feet from the back door. The officers pulled him to safety. A short time later, he was flown by Lifesaver helicopter to University Hospital in Birmingham. With flesh wounds to his left wrist and ankle, he was released the next day.

As soon as Handley was out of the building, Entrekin knew evidence was being destroyed in the fire.

"I could see the evidence burning up before my eyes," he said.

He said firefighters helped Entrekin and deputies remove the back door, which had blood on it. Other items that had blood spatters also were pulled from the building. Blood also was puddled at the back door.

Handley has not admitted to coming out of the burning building for air, but Entrekin said the puddle proves he was there before the officers pulled him from the burning building.

In the 911 call, Handley coughed only once or twice, Entrekin said.

"The fire was real hot, and the building was already starting to cave in," Entrekin said.

Entrekin can be heard on the 911 tape coughing as soon as he went inside the building.

"The forensic evidence did not match up," he said. "The blood evidence played a major part of this."

Entrekin said Handley's pet bird, an African gray, was in a cage away from the building when officers arrived. It seemed odd that the bird had been removed from the building but other cats and dogs had not, Entrekin said. Two dogs and five cats died in the fire.

"From the very first night, we knew something wasn't right," Entrekin said. "The evidence just didn't fit."

Handley had provided a detailed description of at least one burglar he said he confronted. That description - a man in his mid-30s with shoulder-length, greasy brown hair, about 6 feet tall and about 250 pounds with a distinctive tattoo on the man's right bicep - prompted dozens of tips to investigators.

Entrekin said there were hundreds of hours put into the investigation from officers with the Sheriff's Department, Alabama State Fire Marshal's Office, Alabama Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the Etowah County District Attorney's Office and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences.

A key in the case was help from Joe Nabors, a retired captain with the ABI. Nabors, now executive director of the Calhoun/Cleburne Children's Center, a children's advocacy center, came out of retirement to assist in the investigation.

Nabors has helped with the investigation for the last couple of weeks, Entrekin said.

Nabors and Sheriff's Department Chief Investigator Michael Jones conducted the Wednesday morning interview in which Handley confessed.

"He was very remorseful," Nabors said at the news conference.

Nabors said before he was asked to help with the case, investigators already had put in much work.

"They tracked every lead," Nabors said. "They had no tunnel vision at all."

District Attorney Jimmie Harp said the case unfolded quickly.

"There was an awful lot of public outcry," he said. "The public put a lot of pressure to catch those responsible."

A fundraiser for Handley was scheduled for Saturday.

Harp said his office would seek restitution for the costs the agencies had invested in the case.

Case Updates

Dr. Jerry Handley was released on Monday from the Etowah County jail after serving less than three weeks of a 24-month sentence.

Handley, a local veterinarian who confessed to setting fire to his animal clinic, shooting himself and making up a story that he surprised burglars in April 2008, was ordered in February by Etowah County Circuit Judge David Kimberley to serve 24 months in jail.

However, Handley, 54, of Hokes Bluff, on Monday was moved to the Etowah County Community Corrections program in a hearing before Kimberley.

The remaining time of the 24-month sentence will be served through Etowah County Community Corrections, and Handley will be on probation for five years after that.

Sheriff Todd Entrekin and District Attorney Jimmie Harp agreed to the sentence.

"We felt like he needed some jail time, but it became apparent that his problems weren't criminal in nature as much as they were psychological and emotional," Harp said.

"He needs services we can't provide. He needs help."

Harp said the jail time Handley has spent is considered "shock incarceration."

"We wanted him to see what it is like to be in a 4-by-7 cell," he said. "Usually, two weeks incarcerated does as much good as putting someone like Dr. Handley in jail for five years. We want him to make sure he knows what he did was wrong. The sheriff and I felt this is what he needed."

Harp said Handley's actions were a result of psychological problems rather than criminal intent.
Source: - Mar 8, 2011
Update posted on Apr 23, 2011 - 8:13AM 
Dr. Jerry Wayne Handley, has been sentenced by Etowah County Circuit Court Judge David Kimberly, to serve 24 months in the Etowah County Detention Center.

Handley had been sentenced to 15 years on a 2nd Degree Arson charge - and to 10 years on a total of seven 1st Degree Cruelty to Animal charges in connection with the burning of his animal clinic back in April of 2008.

Judge Kimberly split the sentence and Handley was immediately taken into custody and escorted from the courtroom Thursday morning to begin serving his time.

Handley admitted to shooting himself in an attempt to make it appear that he had been the victim after surprising what turned out to be non-existant burglars at his clinic; he then set the facility on fire.

Handley, along with two other men, had been rescued from Weiss Lake, in late-December - after their boat capsized while fishing, near Cedar Bluff.

Handley reportedly suffered from hypothermia as a result of falling into the frigid waters at about 5:00 that morning; the other two individuals were unharmed.

All three were rescued by the Cherokee County Rescue Squad.
Source: - Feb 17, 2011
Update posted on Feb 17, 2011 - 2:39PM 
Dr. Jerry Wayne Handley entered guilty pleas, on Tuesday, to charges of one count of second degree arson and seven counts of cruelty to a dog or cat; all are felony offenses.

Handley pled guilty to the charges that stem from an incident in April 2008, in which he is accused of intentionally setting fire to his veterinary clinic on Highway 411 in North Gadsden. Seven animals died in the fire.

A sentencing date has been tentatively schedule on February 17, 2011 in Circuit Judge David Kimberley's courtroom.

Handley is expected to receive a 15 year sentence for the arson charge and 10 year sentences on each of the animal cruelty charges. The plea agreement will require that Handley serve 24 months in jail and pay restitution of $13,500.00 before being eligible for release.

"I'm glad this case has come to an end with a guilty plea," states Sheriff Todd Entrekin. "We knew all along that we had a great case against Handley."

Sheriff Entrekin adds, "I appreciate the work and dedication of the Sheriff's Office investigators, State Fire Marshal's Office, ATF, State Forensic Science Department, Coates Bend Volunteer Fire and Rescue and Special Investigator Joe Nabors."

Second degree arson, is a Class B felony, which carries a range of punishment of two years, up to a maximum of 20 years in prison. The cruelty to a dog or cat charges are Class C felonies. They carry a range of punishment of one year and one day up to maximum of 10 years.

District Attorney Jimmie Harp stated, "I appreciate the Sheriff's Office, other local law enforcement and fire agencies who participated in the investigation of this case."
Source: - Nov 17, 2010
Update posted on Nov 18, 2010 - 11:33AM 
An Etowah County Grand Jury indicted a veterinarian on arson and animal cruelty charges. Fifty-two-year-old Jerry Wayne Handley is being charged with one count of Arson-2nd degree and seven counts of Cruelty to Animals- 1st degree.

The charges are related to a fire at Handley's clinic on April 24th.

Investigators say Handley at first claimed the fire was the work of thieves who attacked and shot him.

Authorities say Handley has since admitted he shot himself and made up the story about the attack.

He will be arraigned on the eight charges included in the indictment on July 31st.
Source: MyFox Birmingham - June 26, 2008
Update posted on Jun 26, 2008 - 7:45PM 


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