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Defense attempts to soften lawmen#8217;s testimony

WINTON – On Friday, defense attorneys representing the two PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) employees currently on trial in Hertford County Criminal Superior Court attempted to soften the hard evidence introduced against their clients.

Officers with the Bertie County Sheriff’s Office n Detective Sgt. Ed Pittman, Detective Tommy Northcott and Detective Sgt. Frank Timberlake n each testified to the roles they played in the June 15, 2005 arrests of PETA employees Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook. They each stand charged with 21 counts of felony cruelty to animals, three counts of obtaining property by false pretense and seven counts of littering.

Pittman said he was brought into the case on June 10, 2005 due to the fact that Bertie Animal Control Officer Barry Anderson had identified animals found one day earlier in an Ahoskie dumpster as coming from the Bertie Animal Shelter.

Anderson testified earlier that PETA employees came to the shelter every Wednesday to collect unwanted animals. He said he was under the impression that PETA was taking the animals back to Virginia in an effort to find them good homes. However, on three occasions over a four-week period prior to June 15, 2005, dead animals were being found in an Ahoskie dumpster. In each case, the animals were discovered on a Thursday morning.

Working with Ahoskie Police Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts, Pittman testified that a surveillance operation was devised to stakeout the dumpster located behind the Piggly Wiggly Supermarket located in Ahoskie’s New Market Shopping Center. That dumpster had been used in the previous disposals of dead animals.

From his position in a fertilizer pile on the Southern States property, located adjacent to Piggly Wiggly, Pittman said he observed a white van enter the area behind the supermarket. The van turned and stopped next to the dumpster for 20-30 seconds and then left.

He then testified seeing nine black trash bags removed from the dumpster by Roberts and accompanied Roberts and other law enforcement officers to the old Ahoskie landfill where the dead dogs were removed from the bags, photographed and identified as coming from the Bertie shelter and buried.

Under cross examination by Mark Edwards, Cook’s defense attorney, Pittman was asked did he fully expect the animals collected from the Bertie shelter on June 15 would wind-up in the Ahoskie dumpster.

“Yes, I assumed that, but was hoping otherwise,” Pittman answered.

Edwards then inquired of Pittman concerning his previous testimony that the officer was in Greenville earlier in the day on June 15, 2005. Pittman said he was at Pitt Memorial Hospital where his daughter was giving birth to his first grandchild.

“The reason you came back to Ahoskie from Greenville where your first grandchild was being born was because this case was about PETA,” Edwards asked.

“No sir,” Pittman replied.

“Weren’t there enough officers working to handle this case,” Edwards quizzed.

“Yes, but I was a part of this investigation, that’s why I came back,” Pittman answered.

Detective Northcott testified that he was part of the surveillance team stationed on County Farm Road in Windsor, the area where the Bertie Animal Shelter is located. He said shortly past 1:30 p.m. on June 15, 2005, he observed a white van with Virginia license plates turning onto County Farm Road from US 13/17.

Upon the van’s return to the intersection, Northcott said he followed it north on US 13 where it stopped at Ahoskie Animal Hospital (AAH). About 10 minutes later, he testified he saw someone place something in the van and it left, traveling south on US 13 towards Windsor. He again followed the van as it turned onto County Farm Road.

From that point he turned the surveillance over to Timberlake and went to Ahoskie to join the stakeout behind Piggly Wiggly. Later, it was there he witnessed the same van pulled next to a dumpster at which time he heard “loud thud noises as if something was being thrown into the dumpster.”

Hinkle’s defense attorney Jack Warmack handled the cross examination. First he wanted to know if Northcott was made aware to look for a certain type vehicle traveling on County Farm Road. Northcott answered that he was to look for a vehicle with Virginia plates. Warmack then inquired as to the amount of traffic on that road, noting it was normally busy. Northcott confirmed the volume of traffic, but said the van he observed was the only one with Virginia license plates.

Warmack then produced a copy of Northcott’s field notes taken on June 15, 2005. Those notes revealed that the detective saw two individuals (later identified as Hinkle and Cook) exit the van at AAH; the driver (Hinkle) appeared to have something in her hand; and saw the other individual (Cook) walk towards the back of the van.

Asking Northcott did he recall a May 31, 2006 hearing about this case, Warmack produced a transcript from that hearing where Northcott testified not seeing anything in Hinkle’s or Cook’s hands. Warmack said Northcott’s testimony from the hearing and the trial was different.

Timberlake’s involvement in the case was confined to June 15, 2005. He testified he was working another case that morning and once he cleared around 3 p.m. he was asked to take Northcott’s surveillance location at the end of County Farm Road.

He said sometime around 5 p.m., the van passed his surveillance location and he followed the vehicle as it made its way on US 13 north to Ahoskie. He testified the van made no stops along the route and, upon reaching Ahoskie, turned into the New Market Shopping Center.

Turning as well into the shopping center (using a different entrance), Timberlake said he lost sight of the van as it traveled beside the Piggly Wiggly building.

A minute or so later, Timberlake said he was contacted by Roberts who asked him to perform a traffic stop on the van. Activating the blue lights on his unmarked vehicle, Timberlake did as instructed. He said he remained stationed, on foot, outside the driver’s side area of the van until further instructed by Roberts. Meanwhile, Ahoskie Police Officer Ty Metzler took-up a position on the passenger’s side of the van.

It was at that time where Timberlake said he spoke with the driver (Hinkle). He said Hinkle inquired why they were being stopped and he told her it was believed they just dumped animals behind Piggly Wiggly.

“She said she didn’t think there was anything wrong with that,” Timberlake testified. “She then told us we could not search the van. She then asked Officer Metzler if he owned any animals. To which he replied he had a dog. She told Officer Metzler she hoped he kept the dog inside.”

Timberlake said he remained at the van until Roberts arrived and made the arrests.

Warmack handled the cross examination. He inquired if Timberlake kept any field notes that day, to which the lawman said he may have scribbled down a few times (hours).

“You did not specifically write down exactly what Miss Hinkle said to you,” Warmack asked, to which Timberlake answered no.

“And when did you get around to typing what you remembered being said that day,” Warmack quizzed.

“That night,” Timberlake answered.

“So you typed your notes on memory,” Warmack inquired.

“Yes, I typed exactly what was said to me,” Timberlake replied.

“Do you remember someone saying, ‘we’ve got PETA, we’ve got PETA, someone call the news’,” Warmack asked.

“Not that I remember,” Timberlake said.

“Do you remember the media arriving,” Warmack questioned.

“I remember (Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor) Cal Bryant being there, but I don’t remember at what time,” Timberlake said as the questioning concluded.