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Protesters expected at PETA trial

WINTON n The small town of Winton may be off the beaten path, but its popularity is expected to soar next week.

On Tuesday in the Hertford County Courthouse, the highly anticipated PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) trial is expected to get underway.

The case against two PETA employees, Andrew Benjamin Cook of Virginia Beach, Va. and Adria Joy Hinkle of Norfolk, Va., has drawn national attention since their June 15 arrests in Ahoskie on animal cruelty charges.

Meanwhile, the Winton Police Department and the Hertford County Sheriff’s Office are preparing for potential protestors as well as a small army of media representatives.

&uot;We have heard there may be protestors,&uot; said Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan when asked about security measures for Tuesday's trial. &uot;Winton Police Chief David Griffith will handle this situation and we will assist him. I will handle what goes on in the courtroom,&uot; Vaughan added.

The Sheriff said that while the town of Winton does not have any regulations prohibiting picketers, he will abide by a county law dealing with protesters.

&uot;By statute, any protestor is required to stay 300 feet from the courthouse and we will enforce that.&uot;

&uot;David and I met with the Murfreesboro Police Department, the Ahoskie Police Department and the North Carolina Highway Patrol,&uot; Vaughan continued. &uot;We will call for assistance from these departments if needed.&uot;

On Friday, the Roanoke-Chowan News Herald received an unsolicited phone call from one organization planning to travel to Winton for the trial.

&uot;The Companion Species Coalition is a group of concerned animal owners who want to offer positive alternatives to extremist groups like PETA,&uot; Coalition member S. Spears said.

He continued, &uot;We support the police of Ahoskie on this horrible case of animal cruelty and hypocrisy. If PETA put forth one tenth of the money trying to find homes for animals that they spend soliciting funds, they could find homes for a lot more of these animals.&uot;

Spears claims PETA supports terrorist organizations and convicted arsonists.

&uot;There is no moderation with PETA,&uot; Spears added.

The trial was originally scheduled for July 19, but attorneys on both sides agreed to a continuance. Hertford County District Court Judge Rob Lewis set the new date for Aug. 16.

Cook and Hinkle were arrested late in the afternoon of June 15 after law enforcement officials, on a stake-out, observed a white van in which the two were operating stop at a dumpster located behind Piggly Wiggly in Newmarket Shopping Center and toss several black bags in a commercial dumpster.

At that time, a traffic stop was initiated on the van – a vehicle registered to PETA.

The bags located in the dumpster contained 18 dead dogs, including one bag containing seven puppies. An additional 13 dead animals, including a mother cat and her two kittens, were found in the van.

Dr. Patrick Proctor, an Ahoskie veterinarian, said PETA had picked up the cat and kittens from his office earlier on June 15. He claimed the cats and kittens were in good health and were adoptable.

Hinkle and Cook were each charged with 31 felony counts of animal cruelty and eight misdemeanor counts each of illegal disposal of dead animals. An additional charge of illegal trespassing was later filed against both individuals.

The case reached beyond Hertford County as Bertie and Northampton officials suspended their agreements with PETA to collect stray and unwanted pets at their respective animal shelters.

With the exception of Dr. Proctor's cats, all of the animals in the van on June 15 had been collected from the Bertie County Animal Shelter. PETA reportedly made a collection stop at the Northampton County Animal Shelter one day earlier.

Meanwhile, a woman in Gates County claimed PETA stole her dog.

David Harrell – the owner of D&E Properties, a local business that manages Newmarket Shopping Center and Ahoskie Commons Shopping Center – claims there are similarities in several incidents concerning the discovery of dead animals in Ahoskie dumpsters prior to June 15.

Harrell told the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald he remembers approximately nine instances over an 18-month period where dead animals have been found in commercial dumpsters located on the properties his company manages. In each case, Harrell alleges the same type of garbage bags were found with the dead animals inside. He also pointed to the day of the week (Wednesday) in which these dead animals were allegedly dumped.

&uot;All of the animals we removed from the dumpsters were in black, commercial-strength garbage bags,&uot; Harrell said. &uot;They were the real, heavy-duty bags, the type that a person can’t tear open with their hands. You have to use a knife to open these bags.&uot;

He continued, &uot;Wednesdays seemed to be the popular day for the dumping to occur. We would check the dumpsters first thing on Thursday mornings and, sure enough, there were the black bags containing the dead animals.&uot;

Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts of the Ahoskie Police Department headed the investigation. He was able to collect evidence from the van, including a tackle box containing vials of medication n later determined to be Ketamine and Pentobarbital, highly controlled drugs used in the euthanization of animals n as well as syringes. A digital camera was also found in the van. The Ahoskie Police Department obtained a warrant to retrieve the digital images on the camera.

One of the dead dogs was sent to Raleigh for an autopsy. The laboratory report deemed the dog healthy prior to its death. It also revealed a puncture wound on the dog’s front right paw. It is not known if that wound is consistent with a mark left by the insertion of a needle.

Prior to the June 15 arrests, the Ahoskie Police were actively investigating the dumping of dead animals in a commercial dumpster in town during each of the three previous weeks. Since the arrests, no dead animals have been discovered in Ahoskie dumpsters.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story.)