Kirk Van Pelt, who was represented by Doug Stratton of Norfolk, had pleaded not guilty to two counts of aiding and abetting cruel mistreatment of an animal and four counts of contributing to the delinquency of a child for his alleged role in the torture of an opossum and cat.
After both Stratton and the prosecution rested their cases, Judge Michael Long took the case under advisement to deliberate before handing his judgment down Thursday afternoon in Stanton County District Court.
Van Pelt was found not guilty by Long of five charges because the sixth — one of the counts of aiding and abetting cruel mistreatment of an animal — was dismissed.
The two incidents in question occurred between Oct. 20 and Nov. 3 of last year, shortly after which time the Stanton County Sheriff’s Department opened an investigation after a cell phone video had circulated showing young teens killing a cat.
Special prosecutor Amy Miller called five witnesses to the stand, including three of the four juveniles involved. They were sentenced earlier this year to probation and community service. Miller also called Stanton County Sheriff Mike Unger and Dept. Jeremy Goeken to testify.
Stratton cross-examined each witness but only called his own client to the stand. He made the case that there was no evidence that Van Pelt had aided and abetted any crime or encouraged any delinquency.
Miller said Van Pelt had been aware of the incidents since they occurred at his home and he is related to one of the juveniles. She said the defendant had been present for at least 22 seconds before the cat died, during which time he did nothing to stop the boys from killing it and allegedly could be heard to say, “Lay it (the cat) down.” After that, the cat could be seen being laid down in the video and one of the boys was heard to have laughed.
Stratton argued that his client had said, “What are you doing?” as he had approached the boys who were “putting the cat out of its misery.”
Van Pelt's attorney describes this as "putting it out of its misery" -- MORE LIKE FULFILLING A PSYCHOTIC DESIRE TO TORTURE, MAIM AND KILL.
The three juvenile witnesses did all say they had attempted to kill the cat by shooting it with homemade darts used in a crossbow while it was trapped in the humane trap. However, after shooting the poor animal several times and it "wouldn't die", they decided to get a hunting bow and then shoot the cat with the hunting bow to kill it.
The feral cat had been captured in a humane trap in Van Pelt’s garage after it had killed several kittens being taken care of there, according to Van Pelt and the juvenile witnesses.
I've never heard of a feral cat entering a building where humans regularly go and attack and kill tame kittens...
The cell phone video was not shown in the courtroom but was watched only by Judge Long since the proceedings were a bench trial, which is a trial by judge instead of a trial by jury.
Regarding the opossum, Stratton said his client did not have any knowledge of the juveniles killing that animal until he was informed by law enforcement. Van Pelt and two of the juvenile witnesses testified the same.
The third juvenile said Van Pelt had seen the opossum being held captive in a four-foot deep window well, from which it could not escape, and then saw it again later after it had been killed.
The three juvenile witnesses dispute what exactly happened with the opossum, but all agreed it had been caught in a live trap in Van Pelt’s garage by one of the boys and kept alive for two days before they decided to kill it.
The third juvenile witness, who testified that Van Pelt knew about the opossum, admitted to setting the animal on fire before another boy again used a hunting bow to kill it.
(Norfolk Daily News - July 28, 2016)