Woman pleads guilty to cruelty to animals

Three dogs starved to death; a fourth died of neglect

A woman who starved three dogs to death and negligently caused the death of a fourth pleaded guilty Thursday to multiple counts of animal cruelty and received a five-year term of probation.

Magan Terry, 29, appeared before Circuit Judge Carlton Jones with Texarkana lawyer Matt Stephens. Terry entered pleas of guilty to three counts of aggravated animal cruelty and a single count of misdemeanor animal cruelty. As the sentencing hearing progressed, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Connie Mitchell told the court she did not approve of the defense's request to sentence Terry under Act 346.

Act 346 allows judges to give first-time offenders a shot a felony-free criminal history. If an offender successfully completes a term of probation, the offender can petition the court for expungement of the conviction and if granted, live life after probation with all the rights enjoyed by non-felon U.S. citizens. Those rights may involve serving on a jury, in public office and owning or possessing a firearm and a felony conviction can negatively impact a person's employment prospects.

Stephens argued that Terry should qualify. Mitchell pointed out that Terry's plea is to three felonies and involves the "deliberate" starvation and dehydration of three canines.

"This was a deliberate act," Mitchell said. "She starved and/or allowed to dehydrate three dogs in her care. The fourth passed while in the care of Animal Care and Adoption."

Mitchell went on to describe one of the more gruesome discoveries made by animal control officers on Terry's property July 9.

"One of the dogs was in a Rubbermaid tub taped shut," Mitchell argued. "She said she put the dog in the tub after its death. I don't know if it was placed there prior."

The two other dogs were found in a closed bedroom in an advanced state of decay.

"Two of the dogs were decomposed to the point we couldn't identify their genders or their breeds," Mitchell said. "All that was left was a pile of fur."

Terry asked Jones if she could address the court. Terry said she believed a friend was caring for the animals while she was away caring for her mother after a stroke. Terry said she put one of the dead animals in the plastic tote because she couldn't afford the carcass collection fee to animal control and was unable to bury it.

Mitchell said that the condition of the one live pit bull seized and the decomposition evident in the three other dogs led her to question whether Terry was being truthful with the court.

Terry's hearing had stretched past the noon hour when Jones recessed the hearing and advised Terry he would review her case and the language in Act 346 and render a decision that afternoon.

According to a probable cause affidavit, the pit bull seized from Terry's home was emaciated and "appeared to be completely covered with fleas to the point that its back appeared to be black and the fleas appeared to move in waves across its body." The stench of animal waste and decomposition was so strong that animal control officers donned hazardous materials suits before entering Terry's house.

When Jones called Terry's case a second time Thursday, he had decided Terry would not receive sentencing under Act 346. Jones did advise Terry, however, that other mechanisms exist under Arkansas law to expunge felony convictions following successful completion of probation and encouraged her to explore her options.

In addition to serving a five-year term of probation, Terry must pay a $1,500 fine and various court costs. She is prohibited from possessing any animals while on probation.

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