The Houston woman who's one of the first people in the country charged under a federal animal torture video statute was sentenced February 25 to 33 months in prison, but given credit for the 42 months she's already spent in jail.
Ashley Richards, 25, pleaded guilty to the charges in 2014, and she was also sentenced to ten years after pleading guilty to related state animal cruelty charges. Her co-defendant, Brent Justice, pleaded not guilty to both federal and state charges, and was recently sentenced to 50 years for the latter, following a week-long trial in which Richards testified against him.
Federal prosecutor Sherri Zack asked U.S. District Court Judge Sim Lake to sentence Richards to 84 months, according to Courthouse News:
"I believe the crime is so heinous that 84 months is appropriate," Zack almost yelled at Lake, authentic outrage amplifying her voice.
"I can't call what she did murder because she didn't kill a person. But what she did is tantamount to murder," Zack said. "She did this for financial gain and appears to be enjoying what she's doing. She talks to the animals as if she were going to have sex with them. They are tortured and maimed. She urinated on them and admitted she ate one."
Courthouse News also reported on Richards's statement to the judge:
"I apologize to the court. I was young, 16, and didn't have anyone to turn to. I was basically looking for a family. I met Justice on a chat line and he said he wanted to set me up with a salon business," Richards said. "I saw it was not true when he told me I'd have to sleep with men. I was just trying to get my son back and stay off the streets."
Lake was clearly sympathetic.
"It reminds me of a case I had years ago with another young lady," the judge said. "She told me the time she was in custody was the best time of her life because she was fed regularly and didn't have to worry about being sexually assaulted. I'm not saying that's the situation here."
Richards's court-appointed attorney, Joyce Raynor, told the Houston Press she was pleased with the sentence.
"It's fair, it's reasonable, based on the crime that was committed and admitted to, and also based on...Ashley's past and the things that make up her character. I think she's been portrayed pretty wrong in the media — including your media," Raynor said.
Lake also sentenced Richards to three years of supervision following her state prison time, and ordered her to receive mental health counseling and vocational training, according to the story.
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