A Houston man was found guilty of animal cruelty related to torture "crush" videos he produced with a woman who previously pleaded guilty to the same crime.
Brent Justice's sentencing is scheduled for today by Harris County District Judge Jay Bennett. He faces a minimum of 25 years in prison.
The verdict came after the judge viewed a video of the slow torture of a puppy by Justice's co-defendant, Ashley Richards. Justice, who is representing himself, admitted to police in 2012 that he recorded the act, and he was unable to suppress the confession in a pre-trial hearing Monday. In the video, Justice's arm — with a distinctive birthmark — can be seen placing a large knife on the ground for Richards to use on the struggling pit bull puppy.
Justice showed no emotion while the video — more than ten minutes long — was played; yawning at one point near the beginning, and then reviewing some documents, just glancing intermittently until the video's final, and most gruesome, few minutes. That's when he stared intently.
The verdict was delivered after Justice offered rambling, barely coherent arguments, including his insistence that the animal cruelty ordinance is "impermissibly vague for voidness."
The two were previously charged in federal court under a revised law criminalizing animal torture videos — Richards pleaded guilty, and Justice's trial is pending.
The day's testimony took some bizarre turns, including Justice's cross-examinations of both Richards and his daughter, both of which went nowhere. Justice also cross-examined Houston Rabbi Mark Urkowitz, challenging the rabbi's knowledge of kosher slaughter. The state had presented Urkowitz to rebut a claim by Justice that the puppy slowly tortured in the video was humanely slaughtered under kosher guidelines.
"Are you familiar with the Hebrew Israelite faith?" Justice asked Urkowitz, who testified that he was ordained in 1978 after studying at a seminary affiliated with Yeshiva University. The Brooklyn native also holds a senior position with the Houston Kashruth Association, which certifies retail and commercial facilities.
Urkowitz testified, "There is no Jewish ritual slaughter of dogs," but just in case, co-prosecutor Lisa Porter asked Urkowitz if the knife used in the video was even up to kosher standards. Urkowitz was allowed to remove the large knife from its plastic evidence bag and run it slowly across his fist to feel for nicks in the blade. He testified that it wasn't up to par.
Justice's grab-bag of arguments included his repeated statements of the obvious: that he is not seen torturing the dog in the video. Even after Burnett explained that Justice was being charged under the state's "law of parties," in which an accomplice can be equally charged for the same crime, the point seemed lost on Justice.
Justice also challenged Burnett's recitation of the state's animal cruelty law, saying, "That's not what the law says, sir."
We'll have more after today's sentencing.
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.