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PETA workers cleared of animal cruelty

/ Source: The Associated Press

A jury found two animal-rights workers not guilty Friday of animal cruelty for euthanizing animals they took from shelters, but both were convicted of littering for dumping the carcasses in a trash bin.

Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook, two employees of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, were cleared of eight misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty. Hinkle also was found not guilty of three felony counts of obtaining property by false pretenses.

Both received a 10-day suspended jail sentence and a year of supervised probation, meaning neither will serve jail time. Their van will be confiscated by police and each was ordered to pay $4,000 in fines and court costs.

"I gave the penalty I thought was appropriate," Superior Court Judge Cy Grant said.

As she left the courtroom after the two-week trial, Hinkle said she was relieved.

"Justice was served," she said.

Cook declined immediate comment.

Hinkle and Cook had testified that they euthanized the animals in the back of their van to relieve the animals' suffering. They said they disposed of the bodies in Hertford County, instead of driving them back to the PETA offices in Virginia, because the smell was overwhelming.

The animals were picked up from several shelters in northeast North Carolina.

Hinkle, 28, of Norfolk, Va., and Cook, 26, of Virginia Beach, had each faced 21 felony counts of animal cruelty until Grant reduced those charges Thursday, saying prosecutors failed to prove malice, a necessary element of the felony charge.

The pair was arrested in June 2005 after police said they saw them dump several bags of dead animals behind a grocery store. Police said they found more dead animals in the pair's van.

Local shelter officials said they were unaware that PETA planned to euthanize most of the animals it picked up, but a PETA official testified that she told county officials of the policy.

Hinkle testified that she never told the shelters the animals wouldn't be euthanized.