NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - About 50 protesters held signs and demanded "Justice for Axel" in anticipation of a court appearance Thursday for a man charged in the death of a 5-month-old puppy.
Gathering for three hours in front of the New Hanover County Courthouse Thursday morning, several of the protesters brought their own pet dogs to decry animal abuse.
"It was a senseless death. It should never have happened," said Thomas Berhman, who showed up with a sign and his therapy dog, Casey.
A handful of protesters wore "Justice for Axel" T-shirts, and donned purple ribbons in honor of animal abuse awareness.
Christopher Simpson, 21, was arrested and charged with one felony count of cruelty to animals and one misdemeanor count of cruelty to animals. Police charged him with beating the puppy Axel to death and Simpson is in the New Hanover County Jail on a $100,000 bond.
Simpson's court appearance was pushed back to March 8, but he is not expected to appear in person then.
It's likely the case will go before a grand jury, who will decide if the case moves to Superior Court.
"People like that do not deserve to be on the streets. He needs help. He needs to be put someplace where everybody else is safe, where the animals are safe," said Berhman.
Julia Boseman, an attorney and former senator, attended the protest. She played a role in passing legislation making animal abuse chargeable as a felony.
"It's a Class H felony," said Boseman, describing a charge that carries a maximum of 39 months behind bars. "I think with all the public outcry, we're hoping that he gets some jail time."
After the attack, local animal advocates started the Facebook group Justice for Axel to press for Simpson to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
Kassidy Knight, one of the group's members, said Thursday's rally is about continuing that goal.
"It is going to continue to escalate if we let these people off with killing this dog or hurting this dog or cat," said Knight. "They're going to think that it is OK to do that, and that is just not OK. If they get away with this or they get six months probation, that is nothing."
Knight said she isn't sure why Simpson beat the dog, but she feels sorry for him.
"The unconditional love that these animals give you, he could have had," she said. "I don't know what went through his head, and I am not him. I can't speak for him. I know his only excuse was, I didn't know my own strength, but that is not an excuse because it should have never gotten there."