PETA employees on trial By Nick Mays
TWO WORKERS for the animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – PETA –went on trial last week in Hertford County, North Carolina after discarding the bodies of euthanised dogs and cats in a dumpster behind a Piggly Wiggly store.
Adria J. Hinkle, of Norfolk, Virginia, and Andrew B. Cook, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, are charged with 21 counts each of animal cruelty, a felony that can carry jail time, along with charges of littering and obtaining property by false pretences.
The trial is expected to last at least two weeks and will be watched by people all over the USA and in other countries. Court TV was bidding to televise the trial nationally.
Many observers hope the trial will answer the question that has become a chorus among animal lovers in America and, indeed, around the world: Why would PETA kill animals, many of them healthy, and dump their bodies like trash?
PETA have hit back at their critics, saying the truth is simple. The group, based in Norfolk, began working in several north-eastern North Carolina counties in the 1990s.
Phil Hirschkop, a lawyer for PETA, said the group had received complaints about horrible conditions in animal shelters. There were lurid reports of emaciated dogs unable to move, lying in their own filth. Animals were said to suffer through long, terrifying deaths in gas chambers.
PETA, a well-funded organization that raises more than $25 million a year from 1.6 million members and supporters, which include many big-name movie stars started sending workers to Bertie, Northampton and Hertford counties.
PETA employees would clean and renovate shelters, hand out free doghouses to the poor, and take sick animals to the vet. They set up programmes that allowed residents to get their animals spayed or neutered at no cost. PETA also began handling euthanisations at the shelters, according to Hirschkop.
Adria Hinkle sitting with her counsel in court.
They used the same method that veterinarians use for euthanasia: an injection of sodium pentobarbitol that kills the animal almost instantly.
‘PETA’s choice is to allow those animals to be shot or gassed in a very cruel manner, or to euthanise them themselves and at least do it humanely,’ Hirschkop said.
By 2005, the PETA people were picking up so many animals that they didn’t have room in their small van to carry them back to Norfolk alive. So Hinkle took them from the shelters one by one and euthanised them in the van, Hirschkop said.
He says the only crime Hinkle and Cook committed was throwing the animals in a trash bin, an act for which PETA President Ingrid Newkirk has apologised and offered to pay.
Hirschkop said the pair dumped the animals because they had other stops to make and the animals often started to smell before they got back to Norfolk, where PETA has facilities for cremating animals.
‘They never should have done it,’ he said. ‘But this is not the crime of the century.’
PETA representative Kathy Guillermo admitted what Hinkle and Cook did was not part of the organizations policy. ‘It’s not supposed to be done, I don’t know why it was done. We’ve apologized for that,’ said Guillermo. She says PETA supports cremation of animals. She says the animals in the case against Cook and Hinkle were already sick and injured.
‘Wake up and smell the dead puppies,’ said David Martosko of The Center for Consumer Freedom. The organization plans to have a representative in Winton during the entire trial.
The Center for Consumer Freedom has launched a campaign against PETA and how it does business. ‘PETA is killing animals by the thousands. It’s about time Americans understand what happens when they send money to PETA,’ said Martosko. He said his group was not protesting PETA, ‘just educating everyone’.
There are dozens of PETA representatives and supporters at the courthouse for the trial. They believe Hinkle and Cook will be found not guilty.
‘I hope we can get the truth out and the truth is, all PETA has ever done was try to help the animals in this county and surrounding counties,’ said Guillermo.
However, county officials and veterinarians in the three counties, however, disagree with PETA’s story. They say PETA promised to try and find homes for the animals they took and to euthanise them only as a last resort.
Hertford County veterinarian Patrick Proctor told reporters at the time of the arrests that three of the cats in the dumpster were a healthy mother and kittens that he turned over to PETA on the promise that they would be adopted. His allegations resulted in three charges of obtaining property by false pretences.
Officials in the three counties also say they believed the animals PETA took had at least a chance at finding homes.
‘The verbal agreement was, if they felt like the animals could possibly be adopted, they would,’ said Sue Gay, the head of Northampton County animal control. ‘We thought at least some of them were being adopted.’
The three counties no longer give animals to PETA. But the town of Windsor, in Bertie County, still turns over all its stray animals to the group.
Even after the arrests, Town Administrator Allen Castelloe said he had never checked into what PETA does with the town’s animals.
Hirschkop said PETA never promised county officials that it would find homes for animals. He added that PETA does not have an adoption facility, and that there are simply too many strays in the region to find homes for them all.
The court session began on Monday, January 22nd, but for two whole days, the trial was delayed by jury selection procedures legal argument. The trial finally got underway on Wednesday of last week.
District Attorney Valerie Asbell opened the trial with a 16-minute opening statement, walking the jury through an outline of her case. The court was told that June 15, 2005 wasn’t the first time dead animals were found in a trash dumpster behind a Piggly Wiggly store in Ahoskie, North Carolina. The same thing happened on the mornings of May 19, June 2, and June 9. On those three Thursdays, police found rubbish bags containing the bodies of 58 dogs and 3 cats. The final 31 dead animals were recovered on June 15 after Hinkle and Cook were taken into custody.
So when the next week rolled around, Detective Jeremy Roberts testified today, police were ready. They staked out the dumpster on Wednesday afternoon. They followed Hinkle and Cook as they drove to a veterinary clinic, to an animal shelter, and to the Piggly Wiggly. And they asked an animal-control officer to take photographs of all the shelter’s animals for comparison with anything they might recover from the dumpster, which they matched.
The most heart-wrenching detail in the prosecution’s case to that point involved a cat and two kittens Hinkle and Cook allegedly took from the Ahoskie Animal Hospital on the false promise that PETA would find them adoptive homes. Asbell describes the scene:
‘On this day, on June 15, [an Ahoskie Animal Hospital employee] called and said that they had a momma cat and two kittens, and they were in good shape. They wanted to adopt them out. When Ms. Hinkle and Mr. Cook went to the shelter on that date, they walked inside, and Ms. Tonya Northcott, one of the employees at the Ahoskie Animal Hospital, came out from the back, and said ‘You’re here for the kittens, the cat and the kittens.’… And she said ‘yes.’ She went back to the back, got the carrier, got the momma cat, got the two baby kittens, brought them out, and handed them to Ms. Hinkle.
Ms. Northcott said to her: ‘These animals - you’re not going to have any - well, you’ll be able to adopt these cats out. We’ve socialised them, we’ve played with them, they’ve had their shots, everything’s fine with them.’ Ms. Hinkle looked at Ms. Northcott and said: ‘We’ll have no problem finding homes for these cats. None at all.’
‘There was a little girl standing in the front as well. And the little girl had adopted the brother of one of the kittens. And she was looking at the kittens. And Ms. Hinkle looked at her and said: ‘We’ll have no problem placing, we’ll have no problem helping these cats’ … At that point, Ms. Hinkle and Mr. Cook left, they took the cats, left, went out and got back in the van.
‘Those cats ended up in a trash dumpster less than an hour later.’
Detective Roberts also provided a firsthand account of the discovery of PETA’s ‘death kit’ - a tackle box filled with lethal drugs and syringes:
‘Inside the tackle box were several needles, and several bottles of drugs. Some of the bottles still had needles stuck in the top of them. There were syringes in the tackle box that were already pre-loaded with the drugs, inside the syringes. Also in the van, we found manuals from the organization, PETA.
Roberts later described those ‘manuals’ as ‘S.O.P. manuals’ -short for PETA’s Standard Operating Procedures.
Lawyers for the two defendants spent over a half-hour on their opening statements. PETA’s arguments were that:
Hinkle and Cook ‘acted out of love for animals’ and ‘had no criminal ntent.’
The bodies of the euthanised animals in black rubbish bags in the dumpster.
PETA kills animals because ‘there’s an enormous animal overpopulation problem.’
Hinkle and Cook were just doing their job. PETA issued ‘a work order’ (literally) and the employees did the work. Hinkle ‘was assured by PETA that it was perfectly proper and legal for her to go out and administer lethal injections of sodium pentobarbital.’
‘Those animals would have been put down anyway.’
‘It was a hot day. They had a van full of animals that were deceased. There’s a certain stench,’ but as far as the dumping goes, ‘they shouldn’t have done it.’
Asked by a defence lawyer why he charged Hinkle and Cook with animal cruelty for merely ‘putting animals to sleep,’ Roberts replied:
‘I believed that it was cruel when they refused to find these animals homes, or at least try to. And without even trying, trying to find them homes, your clients killed these animals. I believe that’s cruel.’
And asked if he had ever charged a defendant with Animal Cruelty before, or if he’s charged anyone since the PETA arrests, Roberts answered: ‘No sir. We’ve never had a case like this.’
That afternoon concentrated on exhibits - more than 70 in all. The prosecution admitted into evidence several dozen photographs of dead animals, and pictures taken inside the PETA-owned van. They also presented boxes of black rubbish bags, a digital camera, PETA’s tackle-box ‘death kit,’ samples of drugs recovered from inside, and syringes loaded with the deadly barbiturates.
Day Four of the trial changed direction completely and was, as one observer states, ‘ far more emotionally taxing.’
Detective and Prosecution Counsel Valerie Asbell show the jury photographic evidence relating to the euthanised animals during the trial.
It transpired that some of the dogs destroyed by PETA had names. Bertie County (NC) Animal Control Officer Barry Anderson testified that two Dalmatians named Toby and Annie - dogs he described as ‘just healthy, playful, and well-fed’ - were among the animals he naively turned over to Hinkle and Cook on June 15, 2005:
‘They came to the shelter to take all the dogs that were not being quarantined or on hold for any reason and take them back to Virginia … My understanding was that if it’s an animal that’s good or adoptable, you try to find homes for them … especially the two Dalmatians that were running around. And I asked her [Hinkle] if she thinks that those two dogs were adoptable. And she said yes, you know, she thought that they shouldn’t have a problem at all finding homes for those Dalmatians.’
Toby and Annie were the subject of some serious legal argument, as Hinkle’s lawyer tried to bar Anderson from describing that conversation. Defence attorneys claimed that Anderson’s recollection of the conversation was not included in the ‘discovery’ materials provided to them by the prosecution. But the District Attorney searched her notebooks and satisfied Judge Cy Grant’s curiosity, so Anderson was allowed to share the chilling story with the jury.
Anderson was optimistic that PETA would give these animals a ‘good-faith’ effort at adoption. He even handed over his own dog to Hinkle - a spirited terrier that he and his wife had trouble housebreaking:
‘I knew that the dog was a very good dog, but we weren’t that successful with it. You know, we were gone most of the time, the kids were at school and so forth, and I knew that by talking to Ms. Hinkle that she could possibly find a home for it, someone that was looking for a good dog … To my understanding, she found a home for it in Virginia.’
His dog’s name was Happy.
Another episode that made some jurors visibly uncomfortable concerned incriminating documents recovered from the PETA van that Hinkle was driving when she and Cook were arrested. It emerged that the pair kept a ‘Fieldwork Data Log’ describing all the animals they collected and later killed.
Each line on the log had a space to record an animal’s breed, sex, age, and condition. Some of the actual examples read into evidence, as Hinkle and Cook described them:
Age: 6 months
Breed: BSH [British Shorthair cat]
Age: 7 years
On cross-examination, defence attorneys tried to get Anderson to concede that he knew his shelter’s animals would all be euthanised after PETA picked them up. After 15 minutes of badgering, the animal control officer finally answered ‘yes’ when he was asked if he ever ‘saw PETA employees injecting animals.’
But this was quickly put into context by prosecutor Valerie Asbell during her ‘re-direct’ questions:
Asbell: When you’d see PETA employees inject an animal, what were you told they were doing?
Anderson: Sedating the animals for the ride.
Asbell: And did you ask them, when you saw them inject an animal, what they were doing?
Asbell: And what did they tell you?
Anderson: That’s what they were doing.
Asbell: Which was what?
Anderson: Sedating the animals for the ride, to take back to Virginia.
Asbell: Did anyone, including Ms. Hinkle, ever tell you that they were killing the animals by injecting them at the shelter?
That afternoon, a literal bombshell was dropped with the testimony of the next prosecution witness, Brian H. Reise, a supervisor with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Greensboro.
Reise produced a DEA Certificate of Non-Registration (in his words) ‘certifying that there is no registration in North Carolina for PETA to handle, in any capacity, controlled substances’ which meant that PETA may not legally ‘administer, nor handle, procure, manufacture, or distribute controlled substances as a practitioner, retail pharmacy, animal shelter, distributor, researcher, medical lab, importer, exporter, and/or manufacturer in North Carolina.’
Asbell questioned Reise in simple and straightforward terms:
Asbell: If they don’t have a federal registration in the state of North Carolina, nobody from PETA in Norfolk, Virginia can dispense or administer drugs in North Carolina. Is that correct?
Reise: Not controlled substances.
Asbell: And sodium pentobarbital is a controlled substance?
Reise: Sodium pentobarbital is a controlled substance.
The trial continues.