The Houston man going to trial Feb. 6 for producing and selling animal torture videos is arguing that a dog hacked to death by a meat clever and knife in one of the videos was not tortured, but killed humanely using kosher slaughter methods.
Brent Justice's partner in the videos, Ashley Richards, 23, pleaded guilty to three counts of animal cruelty in 2013 and is expected to testify against Justice. Richards was sentenced to ten years in prison.The two were also charged under a revised federal statute banning "crush" videos. Those charges are under appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court. Justice remains in Harris County Jail, in lieu of $50,000 bond.
The two are accused of distributing dozens of videos online, but Justice, 53, is charged in connection with just one. An animal cruelty investigator for the Houston Police Department testified in a 2012 detention hearing that the video shows Richards burning a dog with a cigarette, taping its mouth, and binding its paws with rope. Richards then steps on the dog's front right paw with her high heels and chops one of the dog's rear legs off with a meat cleaver. (Justice was the cameraman for all the videos and is not seen).
After telling the dog "I like the way you bleed," Richards then uses a knife to saw off the dog's head.
"Richards pulled the dog's guts and organs out of the dog's body," Officer Suzanne Holifield testified. "Richards stomped on the severed dog's head. She urinated on the dead dog in the video."
But Justice, who's representing himself, argued in handwritten pre-trial motion filed in an appeals court that "Appellant is not saying that killing [the] dog was right, but argues that the method used to kill the dog was not torture or unlawful according to...the teaching by his parents and grandparents, who practiced (believed) the Jewish method of slaughter based on Biblical doctrine."
Justice also argued that the state's animal cruelty laws do "not make it illegal to kill an animal unnecessarily, as dogs are being euthanized/killed by the hundreds unnecessarily everyday [sic]. Furthermore, the method used to kill the animal (although it may seem cruel) has been approved by congress as a humane method of slaughter, which means the dog was neither tortured or killed in a cruel manner as the statute requires by law."
Justice, who's been busy in the law library, filed a flurry of motions last fall, including one to recuse Judge Stacy Bond, which was denied. (Justice opted for a bench trial, meaning Bond, and not a jury, will hand down a verdict in the case). He also, confusingly, accused HPD officers of falsifying affidavits to obtain the search warrant leading to his arrest, while also accusing them of not having a warrant in the first place.
Justice, who sometimes used the alias "Terrence Johnston," did his best to use online accounts in Richards' name, but a filing by prosecutor Jessica Milligan helps lay out the extent of Justice's involvement. According to the motion, Richards told prosecutors that Justice "frequently set up chat rooms in Skype for live versions of crush. Brent Justice also assisted by obtaining and providing the animal victims as well as the weapons, and instructing the female models on the methods, scripts, or ideas for torture of these animals during the filming."
Milligan also plans to introduce evidence showing Justice's involvement in other videos, including one showing Richards impaling a cat's eye and body with her high-heeled shoe while saying "Does that hurt?" and another where she skins a cat alive.
While in jail, Justice was charged with assaulting an inmate, and lost 20 days of visitation and commissary privileges. He also lost seven days of each for an earlier charge of "misuse of medication." (He was also charged with drug possession and destroying county property, but the charges were dismissed).
We just hope, for Rabbi Justice's sake, Friday's proceedings end before sundown so he can get back to jail for Shabbat dinner.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.