Update, Feb. 6: See the end for a statement from Katie Jarl, director of the Texas division of the Humane Society of the U.S.
Update, Feb. 5: See the end of the original post for a statement from First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant.
The owner of a shuttered dog refuge where 38 dogs baked to death in an un-air-conditioned building, and nearly 300 dogs were seized after they were found living in feces-smeared cages will not spend a single day in jail or pay one cent in fines, thanks to a plea agreement with Montgomery County prosecutors.
Spindletop owner Leah Purcell's lone felony animal cruelty charge was dismissed, and two of her four misdemeanor cruelty charges were also dropped Tuesday. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail for two remaining cruelty charges, as well as a misdemeanor charge for illegal dumping, but she was given credit for the time she served in Montgomery County Jail following her July 2014 arrest.
This outcome is as rotten and disgusting as the conditions Purcell forced hundreds of dogs to live in for years on her Willis property. We can't help but wonder if part of the reason is the extreme delay in filing criminal charges following the August 2012 seizure.
The Texas chapter of the Humane Society of the United States led the seizure, painstakingly compiled records on each dog, and handed evidence of neglect and cruelty to investigator Tim Holifield on a silver platter. As far as we can tell, Holifield warmed that platter with his behind for 24 months while the case stagnated.
We've followed this case from the beginning, and are disappointed, to say the least. But this is truly an insult to the dog owners who are still trying to find out what happened to the dogs they placed in Purcell's care and were not recovered in the seizure. These people do not know if their dogs were adopted out, if they died in that unventilated building, or if they dropped dead in shit-lined cages. Purcell and Zandra Anderson, Purcell's civil attorney at the time of the seizure, have never disclosed those dogs' fates. What a slap in the face to those people. Our thoughts go out to them.
They -- and all of the dogs who endured the hell that was Spindletop -- deserved so much more.
We hope to follow up with more reaction Thursday.
Update: To clarify, here's how math works in Montgomery County: Purcell spent 4 days in jail after her 2014 arrest. Those four days count as "time served" for her concurrent 30-day sentences.
Here's Montgomery County First Assistant District Attorney Phil Grant to assure you that justice really was served:
"Based on our evaluation of the evidence, Ms. Purcell began Spindletop with the best of intentions but failed to recognize that the situation had gotten out of her control. We believe based on that evidence that this plea agreement was an appropriate balance of the evidence and her acceptance of responsibility for her neglect. While the harm done to some of these animals was egregious, we had no credible evidence that any of it was intentional and believe that this resolution was consistent with that determination. If Ms. Purcell is again found to have violated these statutes, it will be enhanced to a felony because of these two animal cruelty convictions, and that was an important consideration for us in coming to this resolution."
Oh really? Did prosecutors depose Purcell's former husband, a convicted sex offender, who told us in 2012 that he killed a Spindletop dog by caving in its skull with a ball-peen hammer, which Purcell was aware of? And did they ever ask him how many other dogs he killed -- he told us that he killed others, but he could only remember one -- and why he thought Purcell allowed a brutal dog-killer on her grounds?
Or what about the ex-employee who says he saw Purcell drown a dog by pouring water down the dog's nose?
Did they depose long-time employee April Longhurst, to find out what she knows?
Did they ask why, if Spindletop supporters bought two air-conditioning units in March 2012, 38 dogs overheated and died in one of the buildings?
Did they consider whether the fact that Purcell never let visitors see the majority of the grounds suggested that she knew the dogs were not being properly cared for? Did they ask why Purcell continually claimed on her websites to be an expert court witness, and that "courts nationwide have entrusted the care of seized dogs to Spindletop," when there is no evidence of either? If a person provides misleading, or outright fraudulent, information in promotional material, in order to gain business, and then conceals the majority of that business from visitors, doesn't that suggest consciousness of guilt?
At the very least, did prosecutors for a split second consider making Purcell's get-out-of-jail-free card conditional upon a full disclosure of which dogs died in that building, as well as disclosing the ultimate fates of the dogs whose owners are still wondering what happened? Why not at least do that?
That's a rhetorical question, of course. The answer should be appallingly obvious to anyone with a pulse. Prosecutors, quite simply, did not give a damn.
Update: We've heard from Katie Jarl, who, along with her HSUS colleagues, and other rescue personnel, worked tirelessly to rehome these dogs (or return them to their original owners). As we mentioned, Jarl and HSUS also compiled the veterinary evidence that we feel should have secured a more fitting punishment. Here's what she told us: "At a time when prosecutors and law enforcement across the state of Texas are taking animal cruelty crimes more seriously than ever, this slap on the wrist for Leah Purcell is a true injustice. We worked so hard to document the deplorable conditions at Spindletop and the many dogs who suffered and died under her supervision. This punishment certainly doesn't fit the crime."
Just to give you a reminder of how bad the conditions were at this "refuge," here are some photos that Jarl says the HSUS provided to law enforcement and prosecutors. We don't have the stomach to share all of them. But there are 66. There are of course no pictures of the 38 dogs who baked to death. There are no pictures of the dogs that Purcell's ex-husband, a registered sex offender, said he killed while he lived on the property.
Now, keep in mind that hundreds upon hundreds of dogs passed through Spindletop over many years. And none of that suffering qualified as a felony in Montgomery County.
Enjoy your weekend. We're pretty sure Leah Purcell will.
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All pics courtesy of HSUS