Intolerable Cruelty

updated 05/03/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/2004 AT 01:00 AM EDT

It was, simply, a small crime that defied comprehension. As Jelani Lewis took out the trash one night near his Nashville apartment, he saw three men surrounding his pet Yorkie, Gizmo. Then, Lewis says, as one of the men grabbed the 5-lb. 17-year-old dog and held it still, another "ran forward and kicked Gizmo like a football." The dog sailed 30 feet and landed on the concrete, dead. The men cheered.

Lewis, 29, was stunned, but only for a moment. "I said, 'You are going to bring my dog upstairs and show Jessie [Lewis's wife, Jessica McKenzie, 27] what you did.' " After the alleged kicker—later identified as Chad David Crawford, 23—tried to run off, the 6-foot-4, 220-lb. Lewis held him until police arrived. A maintenance worker at the apartment complex, Crawford was charged with animal cruelty, a misdemeanor, and felony vandalism (assuming the couple can prove Gizmo was property worth at least $500). He was fired from his job soon afterward. Due in court on May 12, Crawford told a Nashville TV reporter, "The owner seems to think I did it. I don't know why." He added, "I've had dogs.... I love animals."

Not surprisingly, the April 5 incident sparked an outcry. Lewis, a Verizon tech worker, and McKenzie, a Coca-Cola employee, have received more than 3,000 e-mails from around the world. "It's good and bad," says Lewis. "Some said, 'How high was the kick?' But overwhelmingly they've been great." Meanwhile, the couple plan to sue Crawford and his companions (who, so far, have not been arrested). And state lawmakers are pushing two bills—one recently dubbed Gizmo's Law—that would make animal cruelty a felony. "I wish there were stronger laws," says Lewis. "If you have the heart to kill something that cries like a child, what else are you capable of?"

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