Animal "Crush" Couple Will Again Face Federal Charges

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review an appeal in what's believed to be the first prosecution of an animal torture video under a 2010 statute, meaning the Houston couple accused of producing "crush" videos will once again face federal prosecution.

Ashley Richards and Brent Justice also faced state animal cruelty charges for the actions depicted in one of many gruesome videos they sold to consumers; Richards pleaded guilty in 2013 and sentenced to ten years. She's expected to testify against Justice, whose trial is set for May 1.

The pair had been charged with five counts of violating the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act in 2012, but a federal judge tossed the charges in 2013, saying the statute was overbroad and unconstitutional.

But the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling in June 2014, with Judge Stephen Higginson addressing the defendants' arguments that the 2010 statute unconstitutionally targeted the content of speech thusly: "Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that the creators and distributors of animal crush videos, like Richards and Justice, intend to advance a distinct message, perhaps about barbarism, [the Crush Act] is justified with reference not to the content of such a message, but rather to its secondary effects -- wanton torture and killing that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction."

Higginson also wrote that "Congress found that the clandestine manner in which animal crush videos are made makes it difficult for states to enforce laws that criminalize the underlying conduct. We conclude similarly that Congress has a significant interest in preventing the secondary effects of animal crush videos, which promote and require violence and criminal activity."

If convicted, Richards and Justice face up to seven years per count, as well as a possible $250,000 fine and at least three years of supervised release. A trial date has not been set yet. Both Richards and Justice remain in state custody.

Justice, who cannot clearly be seen in the videos, has advanced several unusual theories meant to support his innocence, including a claim that a dog who had his head slowly sawed off in one of the videos was not tortured, and was actually killed following kosher guidelines: "The method used to kill the dog was not torture or unlawful according to...the teaching by [Justice's] grandparents, who practiced (believed) the Jewish method of slaughter based on Biblical doctrine."

We are thrilled that these, um, filmmakers will once again face federal charges, and we'll keep you posted.

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Contributor Craig Malisow covers crooks, quacks, animal abusers, elected officials, and other assorted people for the Houston Press.
Contact: Craig Malisow