Accused Dog Killer May Be Headed to Behavioral Health Court

Categories: Crime
Joseph Byrnes
We've been following the sad tale of Joseph Byrnes, a San Francisco musician accused of hacking his pit bull to death in a Bernal Heights church. Back on Aug. 9, witnesses saw Byrnes striking his dog, Nickel, with a hatchet outside the Immaculate Conception Church. When police entered the building, they found Byrnes' blood-soaked clothes and discovered the man nude and soaked with blood, crouching over his mortally wounded dog. Police claim he told them he killed the dog because it was possessed by the devil.

Byrnes' closest friends told SF Weekly that he's been battling mental health issues for years, but the issue of his mental state didn't come up in court until yesterday. That's when, over objections from the District Attorney, Deputy Public Defender Daro Inouye successfully undertook the first step toward having this case transferred to Behavioral Health Court.

Behavioral Health Court exists to "connect criminal defendants who suffer from serious mental illness to treatment services in the community" and "ensure public safety and reducing recidivism and violence on re-arrest through appropriate mental health treatment and intensive supervision." Yet, in Byrnes' case, the District Attorney opposed a move to BHC: "The degree of violence, and, frankly, the risk to the community is too great," said Assistant DA and office spokesman Brian Buckelew. If the defense wanted to enter a not guilty for reasons of insanity plea, that'd be different, Buckelew continued. But the defense took another course -- and may succeed with it.

Byrnes hasn't gained entry to BHC just yet. On Tuesday he was found initially "diagnostically suitable" for the court. And tomorrow, his case will be in court again -- determining just what court will try him.

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