Prosecution Not Coming for PETA Members Despite Rally, Petition - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Prosecution Not Coming for PETA Members Despite Rally, Petition

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Maya is shown. Maya is shown.
ACCOMAC, Va. - Accomack County Commonwealth's Attorney Gary Agar stands by his position not to prosecute two members of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) for allegedly stealing a dog from a Parksley family's home.

It was on Oct. 18 when Wilber Zerate said he came home and his dog, Maya, was nowhere to be found.  Zerate said he checked his security camera installed outside of his home only to find that after he left, a white van backed up to his home.  Two women emerged from the van, one tried to lure Maya away from the home's porch.  When Maya would not approach the woman, the video shows the PETA member going onto the porch and leaving a few moments later with Maya in hand.  Maya was loaded into the van and the two PETA members drove off.

A few days later, members of PETA returned to the Zerate home with a fruit basket and news about Maya.  She had been euthanized.  The two PETA members were arrested but will not be facing charges.

A rally was held Monday morning calling for justice for Maya and the Zerate family.  Dozens gathered outside of the office of the Commonwealth's Attorney.

"I know that I cannot go onto your property, and take things off of your porch, and decide that I want it and relieve you of ownership of it," said Zerate family friend, Edward Armstrong.

Agar said the PETA members will not be prosecuted because there is no way to prove criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt.  Agar went on to say PETA was called to the Parksley community to help remove some of the stray and abandoned dogs in the area.

"It seemed to me just as likely, in fact, probably more likely, that her intent was to gather up the stray and abandoned animals that existed in considerable numbers in that area of the county," Agar said.

Because Agar will not prosecute, the Zerate family and supporters have called on Agar to allow a special prosecutor to take on the case so all of the evidence can come out.  Agar was even presented with a petition with over 2,000 signatures asking for the special prosecutor.

"The ladies in question visited the Zerate home on multiple occasions.  They know the Zerate family by name.  They know Maya by name," Armstrong said.

"See the whole evidence again and see what happened with that, if he wants to help," saiWilberer Zerate.

However, Agar stands by his decision to not prosecute.

"There's really no need for a special prosecutor.  I have looked at it and I am certain about my decision," said Agar.

Over the weekend, Agar released a full statement on his decision to not prosecute which can be read in its entirety here:

Commonwealth's Attorneys cannot always make popular decisions, rather they are charged with making responsible decisions. Prosecutors must decide if evidence gathered provides proof beyond a reasonable doubt each element of the criminal offense. The criminal intent required to convict someone for theft of property (or dog) it must be shown that the defendant intended to steal the property (or dog) of another, rather it must be shown that the taking was coupled with the intent of depriving the rightful owner of their property.

The facts appear to be that PETA was asked to help when an adjacent landowner reported to them that they should see how his cow with her udder's ripped up from abandoned and stray dogs in the trailer park area amounted to a menace not to be tolerated. He complained to PETA that the abandoned and stray dogs attacked his livestock, injured his milking cow, killed a goat, and terrorizes his rabbits. Abandoned and/or stray dogs and cats appeared to have been considerable in number around the trailer park known as Dreamland 2. PETA responded and the trailer park management encouraged their efforts in an attempt to gather the stray/abandoned cats and dogs. Additionally the leases provided that no dogs were allowed to run free in the trailer park.

Approximately three weeks before Mr. Cerate's dog was taken by the women associated with PETA, Mr. Cerate asked them if they would put traps under his trailer to catch some of the wild cats that were in the trailer park, and traps were provided to him as he requested. Additionally, parties associated with PETA provided Mr. Cerate with a dog house for two other dogs that were tethered outside of Mr. Cerate's home.

On or about Oct. 18 a van that was operated by the ladies associated with PETA arrived at the trailer park. The van was clearly marked PETA and in broad daylight arrived gathering up what abandoned stray dogs and cats could be gathered. Among the animals gathered was the Chihuahua of Mr. Cerate. Unfortunately the Chihuahua wore no collar, no license, no rabies tag, nothing whatsoever to indicate the dog was other than a stray or abandoned dog. It was not tethered nor was it contained. Other animals were also gathered. Individuals living in the trailer park were present and the entire episode was without confrontation. Mr. Cerate was not at home and the dog was loose, sometimes entering the shed/porch or other times outside in the trailer park before he was put in the van and carried from the park. The two dogs owned by Mr. Cerate that were tethered were not taken.

Whether one favors or disfavors PETA has little to do with the decision of criminality. The issue is whether there is evidence that the two people when taking the dog believed they were taking the dog of another or whether they were taking an abandoned and/or stray animal. There have been no complaints on the other animals taken on that same day, and, like the Chihuahua, had no collar or tag. From the request of the neighboring livestock owner and the endorsement by the trailer park owner/manager the decision as to the existence of criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt must be made by the prosecutor. More clearly stated, with the evidence that is available to the Commonwealth it is just as likely that the two women believed they were gathering abandoned and/or stray animals rather than stealing property (dog) of another. Indeed, it is more probable under this evidence that the two women associated with PETA that day believed that they were gathering animals that posed health and/or livestock threat in the trailer park and adjacent community. Without evidence supporting the requisite criminal intent, no criminal prosecution can occur.

 The animals were not euthanized in Accomack County, so this jurisdiction makes no determinations on those issues.

               Gary R. Agar

               Commonwealth Attorney's Office



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