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TEXAS: Pastor found guilty of animal cruelty

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Pastor Rick Bartlett found guilty of animal cruelty BASTROP— A jury deliberated less than an hour Friday to find Bastrop pastor Rick Bartlett guilty of animal cruelty in connection with the death of a cat he trapped in his neighborhood.

County Court-at-Law Judge Terry Flenniken scheduled a June 24 sentencing for the 56-year-old Bartlett, who was a chaplain for the Bastrop Police Department and pastor at Bastrop Christian Church at the time of his arrest.

Bartlett’s conviction of a Class A misdemeanor means he faces up to a year in jail and up to $4,000 in fines.

Bartlett, with his hands folded in front of him and looking straight ahead, nodded slightly as the decision of the five-man, one-woman jury was read by the judge. His wife, Tina, and other family members were in the courtroom.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Eddie Bell, the owner of the cat, named Moody. “I just wished he would have walked up to our door, knocked and asked if this was our cat.”

In testimony earlier in the week, an animal control officer said that Bartlett often trapped stray cats and took them in to the Police Department.

According to testimony, Bartlett, who lived three doors down from Eddie and Sarah Bell, trapped Moody the weekend before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2012. On the afternoon of Jan. 17, the 10-year-old cat was found seriously injured under the Loop 150 bridge over the Colorado River by a woman walking her dogs. The cat died in a veterinarian’s office that night.

Moody was last seen in Bartlett’s possession because earlier in the day he had taken the cat to the Bastrop Police Department to have it taken to the county’s animal shelter. Animal control officer Susan Keys pointed out that the cat had tags with the address and phone number for its owners and offered to return it to them, an arrest affidavit says. But Bartlett persuaded Keys to allow him to return the cat. The woman found it 3½ hours later.

County prosecutor James Rhodes said the verdict was a sign that animal cruelty will not be tolerated in the county. “We presented the evidence and asked the jury to use common sense and reason,” Rhodes said.

Defense attorney Chris Dillon did not return phone calls for comment.

The 2½-day trial attracted members of Shadow Cats, a Central Texas nonprofit cat rescue. “We are happy that the jury came back with a verdict and that justice has been served. The legal process played out,” said Sheila Smith, who heads the group.

The most damaging testimony against the pastor came earlier in the week when Sarah Moore, a detective with the Bastrop Police Department, said that Bartlett admitted he had told her a different story from the one he told Keys. “He said, ‘You already know I haven’t been completely honest,’ ” Moore said.

Moore said she got even more suspicious when Bartlett mentioned in a recorded telephone call that Moody had jumped off a bridge.

“Who’s telling you that?” she asked Bartlett in the taped conversation played for the jury.

“That’s the impression I get,” he responded.

Moore said she ordered Bartlett to come to her office, and when he didn’t, she got a warrant for his arrest.

In addition to the criminal trial, the Bells are suing Bartlett and his wife. Austin attorney Bill Aleshire said the civil suit will seek money to replace the cat, medical bills incurred for trying to save Moody, and attorney’s fees.

“We will also seek punitive damages. The suit is for the theft of Moody and the intent never to return him,” Aleshire said.