Virginia Does It Again! Farmer Who Drowned at Least Five Cats Gets Off with a Slap-on-the Wrists
"I don't think this is uncommon in the rural community. That doesn't make it right, Mr. Hunt."
-- Judge Colleen Killilea
It is business as usual for cat killers and their protectors within Virginia's legal and political establishments. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.
The latest feline mass murderer to receive the state's imprimatur is fifty-five-year-old Donald Hunt, a farmer from the unincorporated city of Norge in James City County on Virginia's peninsula and near Hampton Roads. As proprietor of a four-hundred-acre spread known as Hill Pleasant Farm on Richmond Road, he trapped and drowned at least five feral cats in a backyard pond sometime between the tenth and thirteenth of August.
For these despicable crimes he was sentenced on October 11th to a measly one month in jail, fined $500, and ordered to perform one-hundred hours of community service. Although he pleaded nolo contendere at trial, Hunt has announced plans to appeal the verdict and therefore remains free on bail. More than likely he will be able to use his money and political connections in order to get out of spending either a day in jail or parting with any of his precious shekels.
The case began when Williamsburg-James City County Animal Control lent him humane traps with the stipulation that he was to turn over any cats that he trapped to the Heritage Humane Society. Later, animal control received a tip from their colleagues at New Kent County Animal Control that Hunt had drowned several cats on his property. When confronted with this accusation he readily admitted to having drowned five cats.
Actually, the toll may have been much higher in that it is estimated that between seventeen and twenty cats were living on his farm at the time of the killings. Press reports are conspicuously silent as to the welfare of the remaining cats and it is not even clear if this topic was broached at trial.
The law enforcement community's failure to fully investigate this case is inexcusable. The killings could very well still be continuing at this moment.
It was clear that the fix was in when prosecuting attorney Nate Green allowed Hunt to plead no contest to only one count of animal cruelty and dismissed the other four counts against him. Since killing a cat is regarded as only a class one misdemeanor in Virginia, Green's generous offer practically guaranteed with Hunt would walk.
Hunt was represented at trial by Thomas K. Norment Jr. of the law firm of Kaufman and Canoles who put forward the ludicrous argument that it is permissible for individuals to kill farm cats. (See mug shot below.) "This is not what you and I would think of as domesticated animals. They were feral animals," he is quoted as telling the court in the October 12th edition of the Daily Press of Newport News. (See "Farmer Jailed (sic) for Killing Five Cats.")
It would be interesting to know if Norment, who is also a state senator from Williamsburg, would make a similar distinction between rural and urban homicides and between murders of the poor as opposed to the rich. Most likely he would be willing to go along with almost anything so long as there was a buck in it for him.
From that inauspicious beginning, he went on to claim that the cats were ruining Hunt's business although the Daily Press does not indicate that he provided the court with a shred of evidence in order to back up his allegation. Normally, cats are a welcome addition on farms because they help to keep the rodent and snake populations in check and for Norment to allege otherwise strongly suggests that his client's criminal behavior was motivated solely by an inveterate hatred of cats.
Unfortunately, neither logic nor morality have ever made much of a dent in the thick craniums of politicians and shysters of Norment's ilk. "Mr. Hunt disposed of the cats -- at least in his perspective -- in a humane way," he somehow managed to tell the court with a straight face.
To her credit, General District Court Judge Colleen Killilea rejected Norment's sophistry. "I don't think this is uncommon in the rural community," she said. "That doesn't make it right, Mr. Hunt."
Sadly, that is about all that can be said positively about her abysmal conduct on the bench. First of all, she should never have accepted the sham plea bargain agreement negotiated by Norment and Green. Secondly, since she admits to being cognizant of the fact that feral cats are routinely killed in rural Virginia, she should have made an example of Hunt by putting him behind bars for a very long time.
Finally, her most grievous error was in failing to order both prosecutors and law enforcement officials to conduct a thorough investigation into the welfare of the cats remaining within the boundaries of Hill Pleasant Farm. Specifically, all ponds and lakes on the property should have been drained in a search for additional feline corpses.
The disgraceful performances of Green and Killilea were matched by the tepid reactions to the killings that came from so-called animal rights groups and advocates. The first to flap her yak was Kristin DeJournett of the phony-baloney People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) who combined her criticism of Hunt's light sentence with a plea that the killer not be allowed to satisfy his community service requirement at an animal shelter.
PETA's constraint is fully understandable in light of the fact that it is arguably the nation's number one killer of cats and dogs. For instance, its Norfolk shelter admits to killing in excess of eighty-six per cent of all animals that it impounds. Consequently, PETA's killing factory in Norfolk would be an ideal location for Hunt to fulfill his community service obligation.
More to the point, PETA hates feral cats with a vengeance and repeatedly proclaims to the world that they do not have any right to live! Given the opportunity, it would have made quicker work of the cats at Hill Pleasant Farm than Hunt.
PETA's lies, scams, and murders were exposed for all to see in a Hertford County, North Carolina courtroom earlier this year; regrettably, the moneybags media chose to ignore this milestone case in animal rights law. (See Cat Defender posts of January 29, 2007 and February 9, 2007 entitled, respectively, "PETA's Long History of Killing Cats and Dogs Is Finally Exposed in North Carolina Courtroom" and "Verdict in PETA Trial: Littering Is a Crime but Not the Mass Slaughter of Innocent Cats and Dogs.")
By limiting her critique of the verdict to putting in a good word for TNR and rabies vaccinations, Katherine Rahman, a volunteer with the Heritage Humane Society and a professor of political science at the College of William and Mary, demonstrated that she would make a far better tap dancer than an animal rights proponent. (See photo above.) First of all, neither her organization nor Williamsburg-James City County Animal Control should be passive participants when it comes to the care and protection of feral cats.
Au contraire, both groups should do their own trapping instead of lending traps to monsters like Hunt and then looking the other way. Most importantly, both organizations should recognize the right of all cats to live by implementing a strict no-kill policy.
"Drowning's just a terrible way to die, and it's not going to solve Mr. Hunt's problem," Professor Rahman told the Daily Press in the article cited supra. It is too bad that she does not realize that her organization's negligence and extermination policies are also incapable of solving the problem as well as being morally reprehensible.
The Daily Press generously gave the last word to Lindsay Potts of the Virginia Farm Bureau who immediately took advantage of the opportunity to libel cats with getting into feed supplies and spreading diseases to other animals. This is in spite of the well established fact that the domestication of cats and the advent of the growing of wheat, barley, and other grains occurred almost simultaneously.
Moreover, it was precisely their prowess in protecting grain stores from rodents that residents of the Near East and Mediterranean first began allowing cats into their homes almost ten-thousand years ago. (See International Herald Tribune, June 28, 2007, "DNA Helps Trace Five Matriarchs of Six-Hundred-Million Cats.")
The claim that cats spread diseases to livestock is equally ludicrous in that cats have lived on farms for thousands of years without doing anything of the kind. If disease has become a problem, the more likely culprits are livestock whose immune systems have been compromised through genetic engineering, the wide scale use of contaminated commercial feed, growth hormones, and antibiotics, as well as unhygienic conditions created by housing too many animals in too small of an area. Whenever it comes to killing cats, however, almost any lie or excuse will suffice.
Even if Potts' claim were true, killing cats would still be immoral and probably ineffective as well. Authorities in England, for example, are currently slaughtering badgers by the tens of thousands because they are suspected of transmitting tuberculosis to cows even though there is not any evidence that such mass killings will alleviate the problem. (See The Independent, October 23, 2007, "Plan to Cull Badgers Met with Dismay by Animal Rights Activists.")
It is well known that animal control officers, veterinarians, and shelters exterminate somewhere around ten-million cats each year in the United States. Nobody, however, is willing to hazard a guess as to the number of cats and kittens that are systematically exterminated by private individuals on farms and in city apartments.
The worst thing about this deplorable situation is that it is simply accepted by society. James Hunt and Virginia are not aberrations.
On June 1, 2006, Christine Hill of Brookfield, Massachusetts rescued a tiny kitten subsequently named Lucky Girl from the clutches of Laurence E. Thayer who was attempting to drown her in a bucket of water.
Outrageously, the police refused to even prosecute Thayer because he is a sewer commissioner. "He dealt with the problem the best he could. Back in their day, that's what they did," Police Chief Aram Thomasian Jr. said at the time.
Eighty-three-year-old Thayer even boasted of his wickedness. "I didn't know it was against the law. I've been doing it for a hundred years," he confessed. (See Cat Defender post of July 3, 2006 entitled "Crooked Massachusetts Cops Allow Politician to Get Away with Attempting to Drown a Kitten Named Lucky Girl.")
Hill, who saved Lucky Girl's life by pressing the water out of her tiny lungs and stomach, has since adopted the kitten. (See photo above of her, daughter Morgan, and Lucky Girl.)
The systematic killing of cats and kittens en masse by private individuals is so widespread and has been going on for so long that feline aficionado Helen M. Winslow even had the temerity to admit to "disposing" of dozens of kittens in her 1900 book entitled Concerning Cats.
The protagonist in Daniel Defoe's 1719 fictional masterpiece Robinson Crusoe was also guilty of the same offense. Moreover, if the reactions of officials in Virginia and Massachusetts are indicative of sentiments elsewhere, eradicating this odious practice is going to be extremely difficult. The effort must be made nonetheless.
Besides being the headquarters of PETA, Virginia has a well-earned reputation as being a cat-hating state. Only last year Loudoun County Judge J. Howe Brown Jr. allowed career criminal Peter Landrith to get away with stomping to death a fourteen-year-old arthritic cat named Luke. (See photo on the right.)
Although Brown confessed that he did not believe one word of Landrith's outrageous story that Luke was killed in a tussle over a tuna fish sandwich, he nonetheless let him off with a suspended sentence and probation. (See Cat Defender post of January 17, 2006 entitled "Loony Virginia Judge Lets Career Criminal Go Free After He Stomps to Death a Fourteen-Year-Old Arthritic Cat.")
On August 22, 2006, District Court Judge Steven Helvin sentenced used car dealer George A. Seymour Jr. of the affluent Bentivar subdivision outside of Charlottesville to a minuscule ten days in jail and an unspecified amount of community service for killing his neighbor's cat with a rifle. (See Cat Defender posts of June 22, 2006 and August 14, 2007 entitled, respectively, "Used Car Dealer in Virginia Murders Sweet Three-Year-Old Cat Named Carmen with Rifle Shot to the Neck" and "Grieving Owner Seeks Justice for Orange Tabby Named Bill That Was Hunted Down and Savagely Killed with a Bow and Arrow.")
Back in 2005, General District Judge Donald M. McDonough of Fairfax let off serial cat hoarder Ruth Knueven with a paltry $500 fine and a year of probation. This was in spite of the fact that her derelict behavior cost two-hundred-twenty-one cats their lives while the vast majority of the remaining three-hundred-fifty-four cats taken from her home were most likely subsequently killed off by animal control officers. (See Cat Defender posts of December 23, 2005 and July 21, 2005 entitled, respectively, "Virginia Cat Hoarder Who Killed 221 Cats and Kept Another 354 in Abominable Conditions Gets Off with $500 Fine" and "Northern Virginia Woman Caught Hoarding 575 Cats.")
Virginia claims to be the state for lovers but when it comes to cats, both feral and domestic, it is heartless, brutal, and uncivilized. The message from its redneck judges and politicians is clear: individuals who drown feral cats, shoot and stomp to death domestic cats, and hoard cats by the hundreds have nothing to fear from us.
The good old boy network of privilege and connections is alive and well as is the love of a fast and easy buck. The fact that untold numbers of defenseless cats are sacrificed upon the altars of expediency and callousness does not weigh heavily upon the collective conscience of Virginians. On the contrary, their warped souls enjoy a repose usually reserved for either the dead or the inebriated.
Photos: Daily Press (Hunt), State of Virginia (Norment), College of William and Mary (Rahman), Dan Gould of the Worcester Telegram (Lucky Girl and her family), and Brent Cornell (Luke).