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Animal Cruelty Case Finally Coming to Trial

Sept. 1, 2008 — More than three years since legislation was passed making animal cruelty a felony, the Virgin Islands' first case is finally going to court, where the government will seek justice for a dog named Max.
The court won't heal Max's wounds, but it will set a precedent. The case will be tried on St. Croix next month. Jury selection begins Tuesday, and the case will go to trial Sept. 29, according to the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center (AWC).
About three years ago Max, a mixed-breed dog, was found tied to a tree, brutally beaten and blinded. He survived under the care of AWC and was adopted into a loving home, said Moses Carmona, the center's director of animal control.
"Sept. 2 is a history-making event for the people of St. Croix," Carmona said. "We have been waiting for a long time, for years, for justice for Max."
Carmona and others in the territory-wide animal-care community hope this will be the first of many cases to make it to a courtroom.
"I'm thrilled that a case is finally moving forward," said Humane Society board President Joe Aubain. "It is history."
Enacting the animal-cruelty legislation took five years of meetings, a few protests, volumes of professional testimony, a massive email campaign, a 3,000-signature petition, the unanimous vote of two Legislatures, two gubernatorial vetoes, a failed veto override and, finally, a successful veto override in May 2005.
The law brought the territory in step with at least 41 states and territories that have enacted felony animal-cruelty laws. The Humane Society of the United States lauded the territory at the time of the legislation, which makes animal cruelty in the first degree a felony punishable by imprisonment up to two years, with a fine not less that $2,000.
First-degree animal abuse applies to any person who maliciously or unnecessarily kills any animal or tortures, maims, mutilates, disfigures, wounds or inflicts unjustifiable pain. It also includes prohibitions against inducing a minor to maliciously perform any of these actions; trapping any animal as bait, prey or target for other malicious activities; poisoning any animal; and training dogs to fight.
No cases have been prosecuted to date. One case was scheduled for prosecution, but the statue of limitations ran out, said Assistant Attorney General Douglas Dick.
"That was a case where a man was accused of shooting a goat," he said.
Attorney General Vincent Frazer could not be reached for comment last week on the status of cases pending on St. Thomas.
Shortly after the animal-abuse law was passed in 2005, Joe Elmore, then Humane Society director, thought he might have the first case to be prosecuted in a shocking find of two murdered animals. But that case never made it to court.
It had been difficult in the past to get the police to investigate abuse of animals because it was classed as a misdemeanor. Making it a felony, Elmore noted at the time, gave the law "some teeth." (See "Investigation into Brutally Slain Dogs Could Lead to Prosecution Under New Law.")
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