Idaho’s largest animal welfare organization sharply criticized the acquittal of an eastern Idaho teacher accused of animal cruelty, warning that the case would become a “rallying cry” for renewed efforts by those who support vigorous enforcement of laws protecting animals.
“While we are outraged and saddened at the grievous error in judgment by the jury in this case, sadists who perpetuate acts of violence against helpless animals would be foolish to be emboldened by this recent and anomalous miscarriage of justice.,” the Idaho Humane Society said in a statement on Facebook Friday night. “Enforcement of our cruelty statutes will continue, competent prosecutions for such acts will continue, and rational, compassionate juries throughout the state of Idaho will continue to render guilty verdicts upon the perpetrators of such acts as they have for decades. “
Robert Crosland, a science teacher at Preston Junior High School, was charged in June with misdemeanor animal cruelty for feeding a live puppy to a snapping turtle that he kept in his classroom. If convicted, he faced up to six months in jail and up to $5,000 fine in a case that drew national interest.
A six-person jury deliberated about a half hour Friday before finding Crosland not guilty. According to testimony at the two-day trial, Crosland’s son gave him the puppy because it appeared to be sick and refused to eat, the EastIdahoNews.com reported.
Crosland first tried to feed the puppy to the python he kept in his classroom but the snake was not interested. Later in the day, he dropped the puppy into the snapping turtle’s tank. The puppy tried to swim but was pulled underwater by the turtle, which waited until the puppy stopped moving to consume it, the students who witnessed it said in court.
“Drowning an injured or ill animal in the manner and under the circumstances that were found to have occurred in this case was an act of wanton cruelty,” the Idaho Humane Society said in its response to the jury verdict. “There is a long history of successful prosecutions in Idaho for such acts committed upon animals, including acts and omissions far less severe.”
In a recorded interview with investigators, Crosland said he thought he was doing the right thing for the puppy “by putting it out of its misery,” and that was played for the jury Friday, the Idaho State Journal reported.
“That is why this has been so hard. I was always taught to not let animals suffer,” Crosland said in the recording. He also said he’d previously fed a puppy to a snapping turtle he had a decade ago.
The Idaho Attorney General’s Office made the charging decision in the case at the request of the Franklin County prosecutor, who cited conflict of interest. Crosland was accused of causing the puppy “needless suffering,” according to the criminal complaint.
The longtime teacher had such wide support in the Preston area that the Idaho Attorney General’s Office sought to have the trial moved out of Franklin County but District Judge David C. Hooste rejected the motion.
Preston, most famous for being the setting of the 2004 movie “Napoleon Dynamite,” is a town of about 5,400 near the Utah border in southeastern Idaho. It’s about 300 miles east of Boise.
About two weeks after the March 7 turtle-feeding incident at Preston Junior High, state officials seized Crosland’s snapping turtle — and euthanized it soon after.
Snapping turtles are considered an invasive species in Idaho, and a person who wants to keep one must obtain a permit. A person found to have one without a permit may be charged with a misdemeanor.