Thursday, November 24, 2005

Ohio: Michelle Murray, 25, ordered to spend the night in the woods after abandoning 35 kittens to die

OHIO -- An Ohio woman will spend a night in the woods without water, food or entertainment as part of her punishment for abandoning 35 kittens.

Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael A. Cicconetti handed down the sentence on Nov. 17 to Michelle M. Murray, 25.

On Sept. 19, park rangers found the kittens abandoned in two parks in Mentor, Ohio. Many of the kittens had upper respiratory infections and nine later died. They were traced back to Murray because they were wearing identification collars.

"How would you like to be dumped off at a metro park late at night, spend the night listening to the coyotes ... , listening to the raccoons around you in the dark night, and sit out there in the cold not knowing where you're going to get your next meal, not knowing when you are going to be rescued?" Cicconetti asked the defendant.

Murray, a mother of three children and two stepchildren, said the kittens were left on her doorstep by a stranger and the local Humane Society refused to help. The Humane Society disputes that claim.


Cicconetti gave Murray a choice between 90 days in jail for domestic animal abandonment or 14 days in jail, 15 days under house arrest, a $3,200 donation to the Humane Society a $500 donation to the park rangers who found the kittens and one night alone in the woods.

Murray chose the latter. She will report to the local jail today, where a park ranger will take her to a remote location. She will be picked up again on Thanksgiving morning.

Originally, Cicconetti said Murray was to have no food, reading material or entertainment devices and was to have only the clothes she wore -- as many as she wanted -- to keep her warm.

Due to plunging temperatures, however, the judge said he may amend his orders and allow her to make a fire.

History of Crime-Appropriate Sentences

This isn't Cicconetti's first unusual sentence:

 He has ordered a man who hollered "pigs" to police officers to stand on a street corner next to a 350-pound pig with a sign that read, "This is not a police officer."

 After an 18-year-old man stole some porn from an adult bookstore, the judge ordered him to sit outside the shop in a chair, wearing a blindfold, and holding a sign saying "See No Evil" so that passing traffic could see him.

 Cicconetti punished a group of high school students who vandalized school buses by making them throw a picnic for a group of grade-school students whose outing was canceled because of the stunt.

 A nanny accused of hitting a little boy with a belt was given a folder of articles on the consequences of child abuse, and compelled to read them all, and then discuss them in the courtroom in front of the judge and the victim's mother, as spectators looked on. Afterward, the mother agreed to no jail time for the nanny.

Effectiveness of Creative Sentencing

Cicconetti said he can remember just two people who have been sentenced to alternative punishments and reoffended.

One of them was a man who ran from the police and was offered a reduced jail sentence if he agreed to train for a five-mile race. The man stayed in shape, and a few months later, he grabbed a woman's purse and ran with it.

Cicconetti said he began offering creative sentencing when he was getting lots of cases of people speeding in school zones. Eventually he got sick of it, and thought why not force these people to confront the danger they are creating?

He offered violators a choice: Have their license suspended for 90 days, or have it suspended for a shorter period and spend one day working as a crossing guard. He said those violators who spent a day shepherding schools kids across the street never appeared in his courtroom for speeding again, even if they previously had multiple offenses.

Cicconetti eventually expanded his creative sentencing to other crimes, but stressed he offers them rarely and never as punishment for a violent offense.

(ABC News - Nov. 23, 2005)