FD trio who set opossums on fire gets 30 days in jail

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas. Publicado en News in English.

Three men who admitted to setting opossums on fire and videotaping the act will spend 30 days in jail.
‘We made a horrible decision’
FD trio who set opossums on fire gets 30 days in jail

Three men who admitted to setting opossums on fire and videotaping the act will spend 30 days in jail.

The Fort Dodge roommates, Anthony Herrington, 20, David Bendickson, 19, and Kevin Calderon, 20, each pleaded guilty to two counts of animal torture, an aggravated misdemeanor, Oct. 31. They faced up to four years in prison on the charges.

The three were sentenced in Webster County Associate District Court Wednesday afternoon. Each was given a one-year jail sentence with all but 30 days suspended, a $1,000 fine with $500 suspended and ordered to serve two years of probation. They were also ordered to serve 80 hours of community service.

All three expressed sorrow and shame over the incident as they read from written statements before being sentenced.

‘‘We made a horrible decision that night,’’ Herrington said. ‘‘Never before have I harmed a single animal.’’

‘‘The hardest part is knowing my parents were ashamed of me,’’ Calderon said. ‘‘I’m willing to accept the responsibility and punishment.’’

Prosecutors began the proceeding by showing the tape to the court.

The tape shows them burning the live animals in rural Webster County sometime in May or June. It was submitted to a humor Web site, eBaumsworld.com. Web site administrators turned the tape over to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who then passed it on to authorities.

Herrington wiped tears from his face as it played. The men could be heard on the audio laughing and making comments as each lighter fluid-soaked creature caught fire when hit with a lit match.

‘‘That smells rather displeasing,’’ one of the defendants could be heard saying on the tape.

‘‘Where you going, marsupial?’’ one said as a burning opossum ran into some brush.

People viewing the tape in the courtroom gasped as each incident unfolded.

‘‘The hardest thing is looking at the video and hearing my voice,’’ Bendickson said.

Prosecuting attorneys said the men’s remorse was insincere and didn’t surface until they were facing prosecution.

‘‘They’re upset because they want you to use that in your sentence,’’ said Assistant Webster County Attorney Ricki Osborn.

Osborn asked that the three serve time in prison for their crimes.

‘‘Not only did they do this crime, but they went out and got another opossum and did it again. ... They laughed as they watched it fight for its life.’’

Two of the mens’ fathers, a former professor and investigators testified at the sentencing hearing. Family and friends of the three watched from the back of the courtroom.

‘‘I know the 19 years of good decisions David made,’’ said Brad Bendickson, David Bendickson’s father.

Associate District Court Judge Frederick Breen said the disturbing nature of the crime, weighed against the defendants’ good academic and criminal records, made deciding on a sentence difficult. He described the tape as ‘‘depraved’’ and ‘‘perverted.’’

‘‘As the flames died down you could see the silhouette of the animal ... then the animal is clubbed,’’ Breen said describing the video. “After viewing the video ... it took me a long time to go to bed comfortable.’’

‘‘This exhibition of sadism should worry the defendants about their own character,’’ he said. He said the act of taping the torture ‘‘shows a sense of pride and fulfillment’’ in their actions.

Iowa law requires anyone found guilty of animal torture to submit to psychiatric evaluation. Herrington and Calderon both completed theirs. Bendickson’s is incomplete. Breen said the submitted evaluations didn’t show the men were likely to commit other, similar offenses.

Breen ordered all three to serve the 30 days within the next month.

‘‘I don’t think I’m going to be more forgiving than that,’’ he said. The sentence would force them to choose between spending Christmas away from their families or missing the beginning of the spring semester at Iowa Central Community College where they’re enrolled.

Breen ordered each man to serve the 80 hours of community service at an animal shelter or pound per Iowa law.