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Animal welfare activists protest ruling on video of factory farm break-in

Posted at 3:27 PM, May 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-24 23:53:04-04

SALT LAKE CITY  — A group of animal welfare activists protested in front of the Utah State Capitol following a judge's ruling on video showing a break-in at a factory hog farm.

Members of the group Direct Action Everywhere demonstrated against the ruling, which also prohibits the defendants from discussing conditions inside Smithfield Foods' farm near Milford or their motives for the break-in. Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer are facing burglary and theft charges related to the 2018 break-in, where two piglets were taken. It was filmed and publicized as part of their activism (other defendants charged in the case have taken plea deals to lesser charges).

"Now we are not able to show anything. The defendants are not able to talk even about the conditions of the animals, so they are just going to try to frame it as stealing an object," said Michelle Del Cueto, a member of Direct Action Everywhere.

The group had hoped for the defendants to present what's commonly known as a "necessity defense," where actions are presented with a justifying motive. The Utah Attorney General's Office pushed last year to block it and stick to the basic facts of a burglary. They also sought to exclude any video evidence, arguing that the video would "inflame" a jury. Defense attorneys were surprised that prosecutors did not want to show video of the alleged crime itself.

Instead, 5th District Court Judge Jeffrey Wilcox said "still photos can be used to help the jury to decide if a burglary was committed, particular pigs were taken, their condition at the time of the taking, and the value of the pigs taken." On the issue of discussing the reasons why the break-in occurred, Judge Wilcox's order instructed the "defense to instruct all witnesses not to mention any animal conditions, concerns, or defendant’s motive for committing the offenses."

The Utah Court of Appeals has already rejected a request for an appeal of the judge's orders, court records show. Del Cueto told FOX 13 News the group was considering an appeal to a higher court.

Hsiung and Picklesimer are set to go on trial in Beaver in September. The Utah Attorney General's Office declined to comment on Tuesday's demonstration at the Capitol or the judge's rulings.