One half of a Houston couple charged with torturing dogs and cats on video has pleaded guilty to a newly revised federal statute criminalizing "crush" videos.
Ashley Nicole Richards, 24, previously pleaded guilty to state animal cruelty charges, and has agreed to testify against her co-defendant, Brent Wayne Justice, 54, whose charges in federal and state court are still pending. Justice has been in Harris County Jail for more than a year and is expected to go to trial on the state charges Sept. 10.
Richards was sentenced to 10 years confinement for the cruelty charges; she faces up to seven years on each of the five counts she pleaded to. Sentencing has been deferred until after her cooperation in the pending actions against Justice.
The couple are believed to be the first charged under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010; they were charged after activists at PETA and the Animal Beta Project forwarded videos to the Houston Police Department.
U.S. District Court Judge Sim Lake dismissed the federal charges in 2013, calling the 2010 statute unconstitutional, but the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, stating that "Congress has a significant interest in preventing the secondary effects of animal crush videos, which promote and require violence and criminal activity."
Richards' plea agreement lays out some of the disturbing details of the videos, including a 13-minute video showing Richards "killing a blue Pit Bull mixed dog in a kitchen....Richards strikes the dog numerous times with a meat cleaver. The dog struggles, but the dog's mouth is duct taped closed. She severs the dog's head from its body. Once the dog is dead, Richards urinates on its body. In the video, the hand of an African American individual places a knife on the floor within Richards' reach."
Authorities say that hand belongs to Justice, whose novel defense to the cruelty charges is that the animals killed in his videos were slaughtered humanely and in accordance with kosher laws. Justice, who has flip-flopped from representing himself to accepting court-appointed counsel, argued in one self-drafted motion that he wasn't "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."
We said it before, and we'll say it again: Oy-fucking-vey.
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According to Richards' plea agreement, "she made the videos because she needed the money" and "she felt 'sick'" about making them. She told authorities that she and Justice posted "soft" and "hard" crush videos to xxxfetish-media.com, but that the hard videos were removed. The filing states that "customers ordered soft crush videos from the website and they would send Richards a check each time her earnings reached $400 to $500."
The plea agreement also details investigators' questioning of Justice after his 2012 arrest:
"He acknowledged knowing Richards, stated they were friends and had been living together for 2 years. When asked if he knew her to have 'crushed' animals, he stated yes, rabbits and chickens. He was shown the video known as 'Puppy 2,' which was taken off YouTube. This video shows Richards stepping on a puppy, using a meat cleaver to chop off one of the puppy's paws, then hacks at the puppy's head and neck. When the cleaver proves to be too dull to decapitate the puppy, Richards asks the camera man for a knife. A black male hands Richards a knife and she cuts the puppy's throat. Justice denies he is the black male on the video. The video is rewound to show a birthmark/scar on the right arm of the camera man. The same mark is on Justice's arm. Justice then admits to being the camera man, but claims he did it because if he did not, Richards would throw him out of the house."
The plea agreement also suggests that officials have been investigating Richards and Justice for possible human trafficking charges. As part of the plea, Richards agreed to to provide "all information relating to any criminal activity...including, but not limited to, the trafficking of minors and adults for commercial sex and/or the sexual exploitation of minors."