ST GEORGE, Utah - A St. George teenager was ordered to do community service after admitting to misdemeanor animal cruelty charges in juvenile court Wednesday. Animal advocates say they wish the punishment could have been more severe, but it’s the best they could have asked for under Utah law.
The 16-year-old boy entered a plea agreement with prosecutors. Defense attorney Michael Labrum told the court the boy was trying to scare away the stray cat when he blew darts at it in June 2014. The teen hit the cat twice in the head, and it died in a neighbor’s yard.
The teen admitted to aggravated animal cruelty, a class A misdemeanor. In turn prosecutors dropped a felony charge of torturing a companion animal. Following the hearing, County Deputy Attorney Angela Adams said it would be hard to prove torture in this case.
“Torturing a companion animal contemplates you have to prove the animal was tortured, and based on the legal definition of that and the facts in this case, we determined we were not able to prove he intentionally tortured the animal,” Adams said.
Animal advocates have been following the case carefully since that time, and they filled the courtroom as the judge accepted the plea. The teen is ordered to complete 35 hours of community service within six months at an animal rescue group. He is also ordered to complete a mental health evaluation and provide a DNA sample for permanent record. The judge suspended time in juvenile detention as long as the teen complies with the rest of the orders.
Mary Bemis is an animal rescue volunteer. She said the sentence is what they could have expected given Utah’s current animal cruelty laws, but she believes the punishment should be more.
“Some of these children really need to suffer and have to do hard time in order to get the message out that we as rescuers will not tolerate animal abuse in any fashion," Bemis said. “We’ll fight to change the laws.”
Attempts to contact the family for comment on the resolution were unsuccessful. The teen said in court that he recognized he acted recklessly and caused the death of the cat.