The couple who took a wandering pig that police delivered to the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA and who had plans to turn it into a Fourth of July barbecue, according to a Newsplex interview, had their charges certified to the grand jury in an August 25 preliminary hearing in Albemarle General District Court.
More than a dozen supporters of a pig they’ve dubbed Profit (because it was found on Proffit Road) showed up in court. Petition organizer Debbi Torres made an audible gasp when a veterinarian pathologist testified the pig had 31 stab wounds, and others, wearing T-shirts that said “#justiceforprofit” on the front and “Who will help the next pig?” on the back, dabbed tears from their eyes.
Jerelyn Aymarie Sutter, 27, and Lee Edward Oakes Jr., 33, were charged with maiming or killing of livestock, a felony, and misdemeanor cruelty to animals. Both had been charged with petit larceny, Oakes for the third time, and Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Matt Quatara amended those charges to felony theft of livestock, “to wit, a pig.”
Two Albemarle County Police officers had taken Profit into custody July 3 after he had been found wandering in the Proffit Road area. Animal control Officer Larry Crickenberger testified that when he came in to work July 4 and had a report of the “livestock animal,” he went to the SPCA to find a place to relocate it, because the shelter does not take livestock. That’s when he learned that Sutter, an SPCA employee, and Oakes had taken the animal.
“Mr. Oakes stated he had given the pig to a friend who had taken him to a butcher,” said Crickenberger. “I said for him to stop immediately.”
Oakes contended it was a feral pig that had tusks and charged him, according to Crickenberger. Oakes, who has a long, auburn beard, and Sutter, wearing a purple T-shirt, did not testify.
Crickenberger said he and SPCA operations manager Jennifer Kilby drove to Verona to the meat processor, a very large, “state-of-the-art, very clean” facility, to retrieve the remains.
Dr. Jaime Weisman, a veterinary diagnostician at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Warrenton, conducted the necropsy—an autopsy for animals. She testified to the 31 stab wounds, and under cross examination, said most were in the neck.
She also said it was difficult to tell whether a pig is domesticated or feral, especially after a domestic one spends a few months out in the wild.
Weisman estimated Profit was around 6 months old and weighed between 50 and 60 pounds.
Video footage from the SPCA was shown in court, and Detective Michael Wells narrated what was occurring. The pig was removed from a crate and an unnamed SPCA staff member helped put a harness and leash on. Oakes walks and pets the pig, said the detective.
“There starts to be an altercation with the pig,” said Wells. “The pig is laying there. He has to be subdued.” Later, a white sheet is put over the pig, which is still moving, he said.
“It appears the pig has been stabbed out of the frame,” said the detective. Sutter backs the car up and the pig is put in the trunk. On video from inside the shelter, the two appear to be cleaning up. “Mr. Oakes carries a trashcan full of something outside,” said Wells.
At that point, the commonwealth rested, with three of eight witnesses not testifying, among them, Jose Zamora, owner of Profit. According to Crickenberger, he’d been canvassing the neighborhood where the pig was found looking for its owner when he noticed Zamora’s residence, which had other livestock, including goats.
Outside the courtroom, Zamora said he’d bought a pig in the spring at Tractor Supply, and the person selling it gave him a second pig, even though Zamora said he didn’t have room. “He said, ‘Don’t put it in the corral,’” said Zamora. “We’d leave food for it and find it in the woods. Then we don’t find it. A couple days later an investigator came, saying the pig was killed.”
Oakes’ attorney, Bonnie Lepold, argued that the commonwealth did not prove that the pig was livestock, nor that it was owned. “No one comes forward,” she said, and no one said, “That’s my pig.”
Judge Steve Helvin said the pig was clearly in the possession of the SPCA. “I have no problem certifying the larceny cases,” he said.
He also wasn’t convinced Profit was a feral pig because it was put on a leash. “I’m not buying it,” said the judge. “You might have the right to kill an animal, but not maliciously with 31 stab wounds.” He certified the livestock-maiming charges to the grand jury as well.
After the hearing, #justiceforprofit supporters were pleased.
Torres, who had collected 1,060 signatures on a petition she turned over to the prosecution demanding the maximum sentences—16 years—for Sutter and Oakes, said, “We want to tell people there are a lot of pet pigs. Not all are feral. Hundreds of people care about these animals. They’re not just food.”
Said Torres, “There’s a network of people who have sanctuaries. When there’s a lost pig, we’re on it.”
Following the August 25 hearing, the CASPCA provided a statement dated July 23 that noted two employees involved had been terminated. Chair Glenn Rust said, “Since the incident is currently under a criminal investigation, we are not able to make further comments at this time.”