Based on articles in The Wall Street Journal (“Bird Lover on Trial for Feline Felony,” Barry Newman, September 4, 2007) and The Los Angeles Times (“Alleged Cat Slayer Says He’s Martyr for Birds,” Miguel Bustillo, November 25, 2006).
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 rifle.
Mr. Stevenson, founder of the Galveston Ornithological Society, states he did shoot the cat, but claims he did so to protect birds. On November 8, 2006, Mr. Stevenson allegedly picked up his .22-caliber rifle, got in his van, and went to the San Luis Pass Bridge in search of a lame cat he had previously seen approaching a colony of piping plovers. Upon sighting the cat, he shot her with the rifle and drove away. “It’s a choice of who dies, the cat or the bird,” Stevenson told The Wall Street Journal. “By acting or not acting, I had to choose who dies.” The Los Angeles Times reported that on an internet bulletin board in 1999, Mr. Stevenson “described killing many feral cats during his first year living on Galveston Island.”
John Newland, a tollbooth operator on the San Luis Pass Bridge, heard shots fired under the bridge and saw Stevenson’s van and the body of the victim. Newland pursued Mr. Stevenson to Jamaica Beach, where the latter was apprehended by the police. Mr. Newland says he had been feeding the cat in question—whom he had named Momma Cat—where she lived under the San Luis Pass Bridge. Mr. Newland states that he buried Momma Cat under the bridge, near his tollbooth.
Mr. Stevenson’s trial is slated to begin November 12, 2007. If convicted, Mr. Stevenson may face up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
UPDATE (Novemenber 16, 2007): A mistrial was declared on Friday, November 16, in the case of the Galveston, TX, man charged with animal cruelty for shooting and killing a feral cat. The jury was deadlocked after more than eight hours of deliberation over two days, with eight of 12 jurors voting to convict. Alley Cat Allies responded immediately with a public letter to the Galveston County District Attorney urging him to retry the case. The District Attorney’s office decided against a retrial. While this decision is disappointing, Texas law has recently been clarified to expressly protect feral cats, and to make it unequivocally clear that anyone who intentionally kills any cat—pet, stray, or feral—will have violated Texas anti-cruelty law.
It is important to note that although the defendant was not found guilty, he was also not found innocent.