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Fast Fact: Texas Anti-Cruelty Law Protects Animals Regardless of Ownership.

As far back as 1870, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that Texas’s anti-cruelty law was “intended solely for the protection of the animal without reference to the owner.” State v. Brocker, 32 Tex. 611.

For over a century, that law contained no mention of ownership. This is consistent with the past and present laws of other states. However, in 1973, the Texas legislature injected an ownership concept into the anti-cruelty offense, which it then essentially removed in its broad definition of “owner”—this was the law at issue in the Galveston trial.

The Texas legislature recently rewrote this cumbersome 1973 law. As of September 1, 2007, Texas law once again has straightforward anti-cruelty protections which specifically apply to “any stray or feral cat,” whether owned or not.

Trial for Galveston Cat Killing

On April 18, 2007, a Texas grand jury indicted James Munn Stevenson of felony cruelty for "intentionally or knowingly” shooting and killing a cat with a .22-caliber rifle. John Newland, a tollbooth operator on the bridge where the crime took place, had been feeding and taking care of the cat who was shot.

Videos

Video 1: Hear the cat caregiver's account of the events of the cat killing

Video 2: The Galveston County District Attorney's office decided not to retry the case of the Galveston, Texas, man charged with animal cruelty for shooting and killing a feral cat.

The Prosecutor Speaks

Assistant District Attorney Paige Santell prosecuted the State v. Stevenson trial, which began on November 12, 2007. Mr. Stevenson did not testify. On November 16 the case was declared a mistrial after more than eight hours of deliberation by a jury of twelve, of whom eight voted to convict. Alley Cat Allies interviewed Assistant District Attorney Paige Santell following the trial to get her insight into the case and to talk generally about the anti-cruelty law in the state of Texas.

Assistant District Attorney Paige Santell is a felony prosecutor on child abuse, animal cruelty, and sex crime cases. Santell joined the D.A. office following a career in law enforcement, where she was a deputy for the Galveston County Sheriff's Office and later, the Texas City Police Department. Santell attended the South Texas College of Law.

Click on the audio clips below to hear portions of that interview.

Assistant District Attorney Paige Santell describes…

...the actions of the defendant, Jim Stevenson, beginning the night before the crime was committed.

“…he was out the night before and he saw a cat with a limp stalking a bird. And he came back the next day, picked the cat out—or what he thought was the cat that was stalking the bird—and shot it.” 

...the suffering endured by the cat shot by Defendant Stevenson.

"...this animal suffered a great deal. That was another part of this case. I mean, this animal did not die right away. It took, you know, 30 to 45 minutes before it died. It was in a terrible amount of pain.” 

...the legal case against Defendant Stevenson.

“Mr. Newland, through his actions, had developed what we believe was a greater right of possession of those cats than any other person off the street. He had fed them, watered them, provided shelter for them, provided toys for them, provided vet care for some of them. And through those actions, we believe that he had established himself as an owner, being that he had a greater right of possession to them than just someone off of the street.” 

...the Texas felony anti-cruelty statute as it applied to Defendant Stevenson. (Read the transcript.)

“Well, at the time that he committed the statute [sic], it was a violation of 42.09 of the Texas penal code, and that is, if you—a person commits an offense if the person intentionally or knowingly kills, seriously injures, or administers poison to an animal—other than cattle, horses, sheep, or swine—belonging to another, without legal authority or the owner’s effective consent. That’s how the statute was in place at the time.” 

...why the state legislature amended the Texas anti-cruelty statute after Defendant Stevenson was indicted.

“…the ownership requirement needed to be eliminated. And the new legislative session did that and they specifically changed the statute to eliminate the ownership requirement and they divided animals into domestic and non-domestic. And feral cats became specifically protected in this new statute, and they actually addressed the feral cats.”

...the attachment of Mr. John Newland, the caregiver in this case, to the cats he takes care of.

“Mr. Newland, God bless him, that’s his life; I mean, he loves these cats. And he has feelings and emotion for them. And that was very evident on the stand. He cried when even discussing this matter. He cried on the scene when the officers came. He was highly emotional because he has feelings invested here. And I think that this law helps people like John Newland because it protects the animals that they care so much about.” 

...what impact she believes the new law will have on feral cat caregivers.

“I think that the impact on that is going to be good because I think that they now, people that care for these animals know that they’re protected, that somebody just can’t pick them off, you know, randomly on the street. And I think them being protected is important to people that care for these animals.” 

...her office’s work and its role in amending Texas anti-cruelty law to expressly cover feral cats.

“I’m very, very, very proud of the work we did on this. And people have asked me, would I do this again, and you bet, because, I mean, I’m proud of the work we did. I think that, you know, all of us, including the prosecutors in Waco and some other animal cruelty cases, we played a part in getting that law developed and changed. And I think it’s important. And I am proud of what we’ve done here.”