- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 22, 2002

FREDERICK, Md. A landlord who shot and killed two cats after a tenant refused to get rid of them was acquitted of felony charges yesterday, the first court test of Maryland's new animal-cruelty statute.
Frederick County Circuit Judge Mary Stepler found Eric Grossnickle destroyed the cats in a legally acceptable manner by blasting them with a 12-gauge shotgun the same method used to dispatch unwanted animals on the family's Myersville farm.
"I don't like what he did, but it's not a crime under Maryland law," Judge Stepler said.
The ruling left the cats' owner, April Ritch, frustrated and tearful.
"There is no justice whatsoever," Miss Ritch said, clutching a tin box containing Babe's and Angel's remains. "It's not a crime to take somebody's house pets from their home and shoot them and kill them?"
Judge Stepler also acquitted Mr. Grossnickle of theft, but convicted him on two counts of malicious destruction of property, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
The judge said sentencing would be in six weeks but did not specify a date.
Mr. Grossnickle and his attorney, Richard P. Bricken, refused to comment afterward.
Mr. Grossnickle did not deny shooting the cats, which were killed Oct. 1, the same day the animal-cruelty law took effect. According to court testimony, he told Miss Ritch five times to get rid of the cats or he would do it for her because they were reducing the home's value by damaging the walls and carpets.
Frederick County State's Attorney Scott Rolle went to Annapolis last year to testify in favor of the animal-cruelty law, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison plus a $5,000 fine and psychological counseling.
Thirty-seven states have such laws, according to Julie Janovsky, a legislative issues specialist with the Humane Society of the United States, one of several animal welfare groups with representatives at the three-day trial. They wore pins reading, "Cruelty is a Crime."
Court rules prohibit the state from appealing Judge Stepler's verdict, but Mr. Rolle said the law's definition of "cruelly killing" an animal might need clarification.
Assistant State's Attorney Laura Corbett, who prosecuted Mr. Grossnickle, said the cats were "unnecessarily, unjustifiably and, therefore, cruelly killed."
Judge Stepler said the law does not define the phrase. Although the state prohibits inflicting unnecessary pain and suffering on animals, it allows killing them humanely for food processing, hunting, scientific research, pest control and agricultural practices.
Since Mr. Grossnickle killed the cats quickly, using a method accepted by farmers and with no intention of causing them unnecessary suffering, he did not break the law, Judge Stepler said.

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