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PETA on the Animal Crush Video Case

June 18, 2013 06:19pm  

isLaws.com recently covered the story of Ashley Nicole Richards and Brent Wayne Justice of Houston, Texas who were the first in the nation’s history to be charged under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. This bill made it a federal crime to create an animal crush video and prohibits the distribution, sale, marketing or exchange of such a video in interstate or foreign commerce.

A video of Richards had been discovered by someone in July of 2012 in which she mutilates and ultimately disembowels a small cat that she had duct taped to the floor. She did this while scantily clad in heels, short-shorts and a bra. Wayne was the cameraman filming the horrific act.

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What they had created was an “Animal Crush” video - videos of animals being either crushed to death or disemboweled, often by a woman, for the sexual gratification of a primarily male audience. This pair was making this video and others like it and trying to sell them online for profit.

Thanks to the work of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Animal Beta Project, who were able to identify Richards, Justice and their address, the Houston Police arrested the pair.

At first, Harris County District Attorney Belinda Smith presses animal cruelty charges. However, the US Attorney’s office decides to prosecute the defendants under the crush video bill. Harris County drops the animal cruelty charges and hands over the couple to the feds. They are charged with five counts under the bill and with two separate counts of obscenity. The five counts under the animal crush bill alone carried a maximum of 45 years in prison.

US District Court Judge Sim Lake, unfortunately, did not agree with federal prosecutors, and struck down the animal crush video counts, arguing that the law violated the First Amendment.

The story continues, however, as federal prosecutors have last month filed a notice of appeal on the five counts that were tossed by Judge Sim Lake. They did drop the two obscenity counts and the DA’s office has re-filed the animal cruelty charges against Richards and Justice.

PETA, which was instrumental in the apprehension of this gruesome twosome, has a long and proud history in the realm of animal rights. PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world, and has more than 3 million members and supporters. Beyond focusing its efforts on the four areas in which animals suffer the most that include factory farms, the clothing trade, the entertainment industry and laboratories, PETA also has an investigative unit that helps uncover unspeakable cruelty to animals such as that that was uncovered in this case.

The following is an interview with Jared Goodman, counsel to PETA, who talks to islaws.com about the Houston case, PETA’s accomplishments in preventing cruelty to animals and its plans for the future.

How do you feel about the district judge’s decision to dismiss the five charges against the defendants under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010?

This law was drafted specifically to protect animals from this type of heinous cruelty without violating free speech rights. We are surprised and disappointed by the judge’s ruling, but we are confident that the decision to dismiss these five charges will be overturned by the appellate court.

The US Attorney’s Office of Southern Texas has said prosecutors have filed a notice to appeal the five counts under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. Are you optimistic that they will take further action?

Absolutely. The US Attorney’s Office has given every indication that the case is being taken seriously and we feel confident that the case is in good hands. In response to the judge’s ruling, the US Attorney's Office has dropped the two obscenity charges and filed a notice to appeal the five counts under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, and the Harris County District Attorney’s office has also refiled the cruelty to animal charges to make sure these abusers are held accountable for their heinous acts.

Is PETA planning on taking any further action at this point?

PETA’s Cruelty Investigation Department was really instrumental, with the help of the Animal Beta Project, in bringing these alleged perpetrators to justice swiftly, resulting in the first charges filed of their kind under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act. So we will continue monitoring the case and ensure that we are involved to the extent we need to be, but we feel that the case is in good hands with the prosecutors at the moment.

What are some of the accomplishments of PETA in the realm of exposing cruelty to animals?

Over PETA’s more than 30 years of history, the list of accomplishments is quite extensive! Undercover investigators spend months working to help expose illegal cruelty to animals that the public and officials would otherwise never know about. For example, just in the past few years victories for suffering animals included the closure of a North Carolina animal research facility, guilty pleas of six workers at a pig breeding factory farm who were charged with abusing sows, boars and piglets, the first ever felony cruelty to animal charges and convictions for abusing birds and the seizure of nearly 700 cats from a Florida hoarding facility.

What are some of the future plans for PETA?

PETA will continue using undercover investigations, litigation and outreach to end practices that cause animal suffering, ensure that the laws intended to protect animals are enforced and push for greater protections and the expansion of animal rights.

As a final note, I would like to encourage everyone to visit PETA.org and learn more about PETA’s undercover investigations and what they can do to help.

To learn more about PETA, please visit their site. For more information on criminal laws and the latest news, please visit our Criminal Laws Page.

Interviewed by Adam Abdelaziz

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