- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A 24-year-old Texas woman has pleaded guilty to charges related to the production and distribution of so-called “crush videos,” or homemade movies in which she killed and tortured small animals.

Ashley Nicole Richards admitted this week to having maimed kittens, puppies and chickens for videos that were sold on the Web. She pleaded guilty Tuesday to four counts of producing and one count of distributing animal crush footage and is scheduled to be sentenced in December.

Authorities became aware of the tapes after being tipped off by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in August 2012. A subsequent investigation led police to the Houston residence of Richards and an alleged accomplice, Brent Justice, where the woman immediately acknowledged her role in the recordings.

A federal spat over First Amendment protections had delayed legal proceedings until recently. Charges against Mr. Justice are still pending.

According to the plea deal, Richards admitted to working on videos created between February 2010 and August 2012 with titles such as “puppy1,” “whitechick1” and “blackluvsample.” One of the clips, “puppy2,” was described by prosecutors as showing the woman striking a defenseless pitbull numerous times with a meat cleaver while the dog’s mouth was closed shut with duct tape.

“In the video, Richards chops off one of the puppy’s paws, then hacks at his head and neck. Richards is later seen severing the dog’s head and urinating on its body. In another video, described in court today, Richards steps on a cat’s eye with heel of her shoe,” the court filing reads in part.

Richards often wore a mask and scantily-clad clothing in the footage, prosecutors said, which were full of sexually-charged dialogue and produced for an online audience of “crush video” fetishists who are aroused by acts of violence against animals. In another video, according to court documents, Richards wore a high-heeled shoe as she stepped on the eye of a kitten.

U.S. District Judge Sim Lake accepted Richards‘ plea deal and plans to announce a sentence in December. She’ll face upwards of seven years in prison for each of the five violations, and is already serving a 10-year sentence for pleading guilty to the same conduct in state court.

Richards and Mr. Justice are among the first Americans to be charged under the updated Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act in 2010. He is expected to stand trial for state charges starting this week, and Richards will likely testify on the prosecution’s behalf as outlined in her plea deal.

“This historic case is the first-ever federal prosecution and conviction under President Obama’s Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act of 2010, and it reminds us all of the life-and-death importance of reporting cruelty to animals whenever we witness it. We look forward to seeing this animal abuser sentenced to the fullest extent of the law,” PETA told The Washington Times in a statement on Wednesday.

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