Crime and Punishment in Kentucky

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Crime and Punishment in Kentucky

By Stephan Otto, Esq. from Animal Legal Defense Fund
November 2009

It is exceedingly rare to hear anything positive regarding animals and Kentucky law. Due to its glaring lack of adequate animal protection laws, the Bluegrass State has had the unenviable distinction as "best state in the country to be an animal abuser" for the past two years in a row. The state moved even further backwards this year when it passed a poorly drafted bill that inadvertently restricts a veterinarian's ability to report suspected animal abuse.

Yet despite the continuing legal and political morass surrounding the state's animal protection laws, we are happy to commend the prosecutors of Kenton County who were the first to successfully utilize the only animal protection law strengthened in Kentucky last year, when they recently secured a felony conviction against a man charged with stabbing two cats to death.

Dubbed "Romeo's Law" (in honor of a yellow Labrador who was caught on tape being savagely attacked by a Pulaski County man), the 2008 law makes it a felony to torture a domestic cat or dog, if the torture results in serious physical injury or death of the animal. Prior to the law's passage, a first offense—no matter how violent—had been a misdemeanor.

According to a published report at television station WCPO, the defendant in the case, Russell Swigart, broke into a former co-worker's condo and stabbed to death her two cats "Mr. Frank" and "Piggy":

Prosecutors say Swigart also sent her text messages telling her what he was doing to the cats.

"She had not talked to Russell Swigart for months and months before this happened and out of the blue she was getting very alarming text messages after he had broken into her apartment and tortured her cats got messages taunting her about that," said Justin Sanders, Assistant Commonwealth Attorney.

Swigart faces up to 12 years in prison when he is sentenced in November. Ten years for the burglary charge and two years for the torturing and killing of the cats.

"I think that everybody now should be aware not only was the law enacted – Romeo's law – but that it will be enforced in the Commonwealth and certainly Kenton County," said Sanders.

A well-deserved salute to prosecutor Justin Sanders for taking crimes against animals seriously, and showing that animal abusers in Kentucky will not always find refuge from the law – at least not in Kenton County.