The two men charged with the dog killings in Wellsford have now appeared in court. It was pretty much a standard appearance to enter a plea, and they won’t be back in court for a few more weeks, when a pre-commital hearing will take place. The surprising piece of information coming out from this appearance was that the two defendants have elected a trial by jury. Had anyone asked beforehand, I would have bet heavily that they would have gone for trial by judge alone. Seems to me that their only chance of success in this case is showing that the dogs didn’t suffer sufficiently during the killing spree, and were killed quickly. As hard as that sounds to believe, it would have a better chance of success before a judge, who would have a strong understanding of the prosecution’s burden of proof, and would be less likely to be swayed by the emotions of the situation. I struggle to believe a jury will care about technicalities in light of the number of dead dogs, the “massacre-like” nature of the killings, and the sheer craziness of it all.
The defence’s most likely strategy is to put the dog owner on trial, suggesting that he had too many dogs, that their own dog was killed by his, and that he consented to the killing and is the real person to blame. They may well be able to weaken his credibility as a witness, and perhaps sway a few jury members who worry about dangerous dogs. As I’ve indicated in prior posts, Mr. Hargreaves is no choir boy, and has a lot to answer for himself – but I still don’t see how attacking him buys an acquittal.
This case should be won or lost on the basis of the scientific evidence, and the SPCA’s ability to show that the dogs suffered. Regardless of the reasons for the killing, it was done in a manner that the SPCA should be able to show was detestable, and the owner’s actions will not be enough to legally absolve the defendants of responsibilty for what happened. Still, with a jury involved, it should be a rousing trial, and an interesting one to follow.
There’s a lot to be angry about these days. Ever since a couple of lunatics decided to commit the ‘Wellsford Massacre’, by emptying their shotguns into a shed full of puppies, the media has been alight with stories about animal welfare. In one sense, that’s good. We certainly need to be paying more attention to what is, sadly, a prevalent problem. Nonetheless, there’s a lot to get angry about from the media coverage as well. I’m not sure whether it’s the media, the killers up in Wellsford, some lady calling me a dick-head, or a combination of all these things, but I’m feeling pretty steamed. Rather than attempt a coherent blog in this state, I’ll throw out a few points on the ‘things that are making me mad’, and hope it makes some degree of sense in the end.
Before doing so, a disclaimer. I worry some times that people read parts of my comments rather than the whole. So let me state this loud and clear: I am not against punishing people who commit cruelty against animals. Far from it. I’ve done as much to try and get sentences fairly applied as anyone, and have written legal articles, drafted submissions to Parliament and worked with prosecutors to bolster sentences for animal abusers. It is, to be sure, a component of what needs to happen in order to have a country that treats animals better than it currently does. Nonetheless, as you’ll see from my comments below, I have serious reservations about the way this has suddenly become ‘the answer’ to our problems.
My Talk with Simon Bridges, MP
A few weeks before he introduced his new Bill to raise the maximum penalty for wilful ill-treatment to animals causing death from three to five years, Simon Bridges called me to see what I thought. I told him I thought it would do absolutely nothing for animals, and might even set back the cause. I think he was taken aback, as my position seemed both counter-intuitive and contrary to the ‘animal lover’ position. So I explained. The problem, as I see it, is not the maximum sentence for the single most serious crime relating to animals. A three year maximum, believe it or not, is fairly high by New Zealand standards. Sure, judges rarely impose the maximum, but that’s true for all crimes. Nonetheless, the three year maximum is not out-of-whack with other jurisdictions, and gives plenty of room to get jail time for those who commit horrid acts. Continue reading
As more details emerge from what happened in Wellsford two days ago, the whole picture gets a great deal grimmer. In New Zealand terms, this was a huge story, splashed all over the front page of the Herald, and it has garnered considerable attention. Sadly, it says a lot about our view towards animals, and highlights some of the weaknesses of the existing animal welfare system. Incidentally, if you haven’t done so, it’s probably worth reading what I had to say on this yesterday, as I don’t plan on repeating any details of the case that I talked about then. But here are six additional things to think about:
First, the horrors of the incident should not be underestimated. When SPCA inspectors, who see plenty of awful things done to animals every day, are left speechless – it’s pretty bad news. The perpetrator of the act deserves the condemnation he’s getting now, and hopefully the jail time he deserves. Let’s be honest. That’s one pretty sick guy. Continue reading