State officials testify

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 29, 2007

WINTON – Two state officials took the stand here Friday as the criminal court case continued against two employees of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

Dr. Steve Rushton, a veterinary pathologist with the Rawlings Lab in Raleigh, offered testimony regarding the autopsy he performed on one of the dogs found dead in an Ahoskie dumpster on June 15, 2005.

Agent Jennifer Holshouser, who works at the North Carolina SBI Crime Lab in Raleigh, testified to her findings of evidence forwarded by the Ahoskie Police Department.

Both were declared as expert witnesses as state prosecutor Valerie Mitchell Asbell, the local District 6B Attorney, continued to build the case against PETA employees Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook. They stand charged with felony animal cruelty, obtaining property by false pretense and littering in the wake of dead animals found in a dumpster as well as in the back of a PETA van they were operating.

Dr. Rushton said he performed a complete examination of the dog, inside and out. He added that he collected tissue samples from the dog’s heart, brain, kidney, liver and lung. Other samples were also taken that were froze and later sent to a specialized lab in Pennsylvania for further testing.

Dr. Rushton said other than a small puncture wound on the dog’s leg (where it appeared a needle had been inserted) and a mild case of fleas, the dog appeared healthy in his opinion.

Under cross-examination by Lisa Stevenson, one of Hinkle’s three defense attorneys, Dr. Rushton admitted that he had no knowledge of the criteria used by the Ahoskie Police to send him this particular animal to examine. He confirmed that the dog did have fleas prior to its death and was also five percent dehydrated.

Stevenson then asked if the dog suffered from Parvo, a highly contagious canine disease that has the possibility to spread easily, especially in animal shelters.

Stevenson asked Dr. Rushton a series of questions about Parvo, including did he use any specific test to determine if the dog he examined was infected with the disease. He answered no to the specific testing, but did say that a full cavity examination, which he performed in this particular case, normally would reveal Parvo.

However, from a clinical standpoint, Dr. Rushton said it normally took 7-10 days for Parvo to appear and he could not completely rule out if this dog was actually infected or not.

Under questioning by Asbell, Agent Holshouser verified that she received evidence collected by Ahoskie Police Detective Sgt. Jeremy Roberts. She testified that she performed a variety of tests on the evidence in order to determine its identity.

Upon being shown several items of state evidence introduced on Wednesday, Holshouser positively identified each as being what she examined.

According to the SBI agent, those items, seized by Ahoskie Police from a tackle box found inside the PETA van on the day of the arrests, included pentobarbital and ketamine. Those drugs are listed as Schedule III controlled substances.

During Thursday testimony, Brian Reise, a supervisor with the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that PETA is properly licensed to purchase, transport and administer such controlled substances in the state of Virginia, but not in North Carolina.