SAN DIEGO — A transient who used a rock to kill an elephant seal pup near San Diego Bay was convicted Friday of felony cruelty to an endangered or protected animal.
Roy Lee Miller — who has been to prison twice for battery causing serious injury and petty theft — faces five years behind bars when sentenced Jan. 15.
In her opening statement at trial, Deputy District Attorney Karra Reedy told jurors that Miller, 45, bashed the head of the seal pup “again and again and again” in a “vicious and extreme act of animal cruelty.”
Reedy said the seal pup — thought to be about a month or two old — had multiple skull fractures and a brain hemorrhage.
Boaters alerted officials to the newly weaned Northern elephant seal pup on Feb. 27.
A seal pup has a distinctive call or “cry,” calling for its mother, the prosecutor said.
Researchers kept an eye on the animal, but it ended up under the Sonar Bridge near Spanish Landing, where Miller and friend Mark Valentine had been hanging out, Reedy said. Miller was on his second bottle of vodka when he attacked the seal, according to the prosecutor.
Deputy Public Defender Joey Super said Miller mistakenly thought there was something wrong with the animal and felt he was doing the right thing by putting it out of its misery.
“A mistake is not malice,” Super told the jury.
Super said Miller and Valentine described the sounds the animal was making as “worse than a baby crying.”
The defendant and Valentine tried to feed the seal pup, and when that didn’t work, Miller hit the animal in the head to end its suffering, Super told the jury.
A marine mammal veterinarian testified in September that the seal pup — not normally found in San Diego Bay — was fine and making normal seal “calls” when she observed the animal on Feb. 27.
The veterinarian said a lay person could think that a seal was in distress if they heard the “unique” pup calls.
Harbor police Detective Robert Twardy testified that Miller approached him after the detective found the seal’s body on the beach.
“He said he was responsible for putting the seal out of its misery,” Twardy testified.
When asked why he didn’t call 911 when he came upon the seal, Miller said he didn’t know and was “distraught,” Twardy testified.