In a two-day trial that ran into the early-morning hours on April 22, a 12-person jury convicted a Fishersville duo of animal cruelty and maliciously killing a pig by stabbing it in the neck at least 31 times.
Aymarie Sutter, 27, was employed as a veterinary assistant at the Charlottesville Albemarle SPCA on July 3 of last year when two Albemarle County patrol officers dropped off a pig they had received several calls about and eventually found wandering near Proffit Road. The SPCA does not take livestock, so as employees worried about what they would do with the swine, Sutter testified that she offered to take it to the home she shared with her fiance, Lee Oakes, 33, house it in their dog run overnight and take it to a butcher in the morning.
In a tearful testimony, Sutter told the jury that when Oakes arrived at the SPCA that evening, his intention was to hogtie the animal and haul it home on a tarp in the trunk of his car.
“Things didn’t go as he had planned,” said Bonnie Lepold, Oakes’ attorney, during her opening statement. The jury reviewed an SPCA surveillance video, which showed Oakes struggling to walk the pig in a dog harness outside the facility. There, he and Sutter forced the animal to the ground and tried binding all four of its legs with dog leashes while the pig thrashed and eventually bit Oakes through the boot. He then instructed Sutter to get his hunting knife out of his car, and he slaughtered the pig himself—just out of the video’s frame.
When the act was over and the pig was finally still, Sutter testified, “Lee closed his eyes and bowed his head, like I see him do over any animal life he takes.”
His own attorney called him a “terrible butcher,” but said when her client realized he would not be able to get the pig in the car alive, he killed it as quickly and humanely as he could. As a skilled deer and turkey hunter, she said he was not prepared for the thickness of the pig’s skin.
Prosecutor Amanda Galloway showed the jury pictures of the maimed animal lying lifeless with several gashes and cuts along its neckline. About 15 animal-lovers and animal sanctuary owners showed up in pig shirts, leggings and carrying pig purses—though they were forced to check the latter at the door. During the trial they audibly gasping for breath and sniffled when the bloodied images were shown. Some left the room.
Lepold and Alicia Milligan, who represented Sutter, argued that the pig was feral, “a nuisance animal” with “no real value” and belonging to no one.
Jose Zamora, a farmer on Mine Creek Trail, testified that he had bought a black pig at the Tractor Supply Company, and when the seller delivered it to him, a white pig also escaped out of the seller’s cage and ran into the woods on his property. The seller told Zamora to keep the white pig for free, though Zamora testified that he never wanted it. He would leave food out for the pig and saw it every day for more than four weeks until it went missing, he said. He identified the white pig as the one with 31 stab wounds to the neck.
Dr. Jaime Weisman, an expert in veterinary forensics training and a diagnostician at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in Warrenton, conducted a necropsy—or an animal autopsy—on the pig and concluded that it bled out. She testified the pig probably suffered for 10 minutes before it died.
“It never even crossed my mind to call it anything other than domestic,” she said, noting that the pig she examined had thin hair and short tusks while feral pigs have thicker hair and longer tusks. A feral pig would never allow someone to get near it or pet it and it certainly wouldn’t walk on a leash like a dog, she said.
After the killing, Sutter testified that she and her fiance delivered the animal to Jim Vines, a meat processor and owner of Rolling Knoll Farm, who later took the stand and said he only agreed to receive the dead animal because he thought it was feral—its hair was rough, its teeth were rounded from chewing rocks and its nose was rough from rooting. He called it a “wilder pig” and said it takes virtually no time for a domesticated pig to transition to a feral one when out in the wild.
Outside of Albemarle County Circuit Court, Lorelei Pulliam, the executive director of Gallastar Equine Center in Afton, which has an animal sanctuary called Ranger’s Refuge, said “[The defense] is trying to characterize him as a nuisance species. He was a treasure.”
When the pig was captured by police, they testified that it was exhausted, hungry and frothing at the mouth. In Pulliam’s opinion, it was lost and looking for help. “Instead of getting that help, he was brutally butchered,” she said.
And reacting to an SPCA’s sobbing testimony—the only person present during the slaughter other than Oakes and Sutter—Pulliam noted the pig’s “horrible gurgling sounds at the end, as he took his last breath.” She called the testimony “one of the worst things I’ve ever heard in my life.”
It wasn’t until 1am Saturday that the jury indicated it had made a decision. The jury found them not guilty of stealing the pig, but convicted them of one felony count of killing livestock and a misdemeanor count of animal cruelty, each charge carrying a $500 fine and court costs—and no jail time.
Pulliam, who dubbed the pig Profit, commended the commonwealth’s attorney for prosecuting the case, and says the moniker only comes, in part, because the animal was found near Proffit Road. She also likes the name “because he has a lot to teach people and people have a lot to learn.”