Jury Finds Owner of Animal Rescue Guilty on 8 of 10 Charges
Dawn Hamill, owner of Dazzle's Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, was found guilty Friday of eight counts of violation of owner's duties and not guilty on two counts of animal neglect.
It took a jury four hours of deliberations Friday, Sept. 14, to find Dawn Hamill guilty of eight of 10 counts against her in a four-day animal abuse trial.
Hamill, the owner of Dazzle’s Painted Pastures Animal Rescue and Sanctuary, was accused of eight misdemeanor counts of violation of owner's duties in connection to eight puppies reportedly found in cold, filthy conditions during a Feb. 11, 2011, raid on her property. She was found guilty on those eight counts but the seven-man, five-woman jury found her not guilty on two other counts of animal neglect, stemming from the discovery of a miniature horse and a Himalayan cat found dead on the property during the same raid.
Defense attorney Purav Bhatt said he was disappointed with some of the verdict.
"But the jury deliberated for a considerable amount of time," he added, "which shows that it was a thoughtful verdict between them. And that's what juries are for."
The court clerk delivered the verdict at about 8:30 p.m. Friday, with a courtroom of about a dozen people—family and supporters of Hamill, as well as animal rights advocates.
Some of those advocates had strong words after the Hamill: "I'm so happy about it, that she was found guilty," said Dina Bernichio.
Hamill was the last witness to take the stand, testifying for about three hours Friday morning. She broke down twice on the stand, crying at mentions of Tiny, the miniature horse found dead.
As her employee Dawn Dorian testified the day before, Hamill said Tiny was alive the night before the raid. She said that as a miniature horse he suffered from the genetic effects of dwarfism, but he was a happy animal.
During direct examination, Hamill said the deceased Himalayan cat was one of more than 20 animals that her former employee, Christine Kelly, brought back to the rescue after a trip to Missouri. Hamill said Kelly was fired because she had been told not to bring any more animals to the facility. Along with the cat, Kelly brought back the eight puppies, Hamill testified.
"[Kelly] was fired the week before [the raid] for bringing more animals to the property without permission or room," Hamill said.
Hamill said she was overwhelmed with the new shipment of animals, especially once Kelly was no longer working there. She testified that she called the Illinois Department of Agriculture on Feb. 7, the Monday before the raid and the day after Kelly was let go, to find out what she should do. Joel Aschermann, an animal investigator, told her to call county animal control.
County animal control came out to the property Feb. 8, and issued no citations, Hamill said. She told the investigators she was ready to give up more than 60 dogs, 20 of which were the ones Kelly had brought onto the property, to a no-kill shelter.
As she was waiting on word from the investigators from Feb. 6 to Feb. 11, Hamill said she or Dawn Dorian fed the puppies, gave them water or cleaned up after them three times a day. Hamill said she had taken the puppies from the barn away from the general dog population and quarantined them in the garage in a cage with food, water, blankets and space heater.
Bhatt asked Hamill if the conditions on pictures shown over and over again by the state—of a cage filled with feces, dirty blankets and insulation that appeared to be have been chewed from the walls—was how she had left the puppies.
"No," she said, adding that she wasn't allowed to care for the puppies for the time investigators were on the property during the raid, and they hadn't been fed or checked on since 9 p.m. the night before.
But on cross-examination, Assistant State's Attorney Naughton questioned Hamill's claims that she regularly checked on the puppies. She showed Hamill a picture reportedly taken by Kelly on Feb. 9, where the plastic sheeting that draped the cage appeared to be torn.
Naughton also questioned Hamill's care of the horse, Tiny. She showed a picture of Tiny's hooves, which were reportedly overgrown. But Hamill contended that with Tiny being a dwarf horse, his hooves were not trimmed like a normal horse.
"He couldn't walk like that," Naughton said, noting the picture of Tiny's hooves.
"Yes, he could," Hamill answered. "He could run like the wind."
"He can't run like the wind right now," Naughton retorted.
"Oh, isn't that nice," Hamill answered, before she started to cry.
"I'm sorry," Hamill then said to Judge Demacopolous about her comment to Naughton. "[But] that was hurtful."
Naughton's closing argument included repeated mentions of photos of the scene.
"They say a picture can tell a thousand words," she said. "Well, you've seen a lot of pictures throughout this case—24, 25, including the video [of the raid].
"And these pictures are screaming to you that this defendant is guilty."
Naughton said the puppies' condition, with their paws caked with feces and with urine burns on their bodies, "did not happen overnight or even over a week." She said water bowls on the property were frozen over, the puppies had been exposed to the contagious parvovirus, and Tiny and the Himalayan cat had been neglected and cruelly treated.
"There was not humane treatment of that cat," Naughton said. "That cat was a stiff as a board, being yanked from a cage."
Defense attorney Bhatt had a different perspective on the case.
"The state wants to throw the kitchen sink at my client to convict her of the refrigerator," he said, referring to the prosecution's case as a "shell game."
Hamill had placed a call to the Illinois Department of Agriculture to get the animals picked up from her property after she was admittedly overwhelmed, he said. He painted a picture of Christine Kelly as a disgruntled employee, who called animal control after she heard Hamill place her own call, but didn't complain about conditions during the year she worked there.
Bhatt stressed that animals come to the rescue and sanctuary are often sick and injured. And no one knew the cause of death of Tiny and the Himalayan cat because there was no veterinarian on the property the day of the raid and because the state didn't have an autopsy done on the animals, he said.
He said the eight puppies had been in their cage for 16 hours without being checked on, because the last time someone had tended to them was 9 p.m. the day before the raid. And Hamill testified that officials didn't leave her property until about 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 11, Bhatt said.
"Dawn Hamill took the stand to explain this to you," Bhatt said. "When you hear about some of these things, you hear 'puppy mills,' or 'animal hoarders' or 'crazy cat ladies.' Well, crazy cat ladies don't get licensed by the [Illinois] Department of Agriculture."
Hamill's sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 25 in Room 203 of the Markham Courthouse. The charges she was found guilty of are misdemeanors; it was not immediately clear late Friday what the penalty might be for those charges.
Complete Coverage of the Dawn Hamill Trial:
- State Rests Animal Cruelty Case With Investigator's Testimony
- State Witnesses Testify in First Full Day of Animal Abuse Trial
- Juror's Conversation Could Delay Animal Cruelty Case
- State Won't Call Key Witness in Animal Abuse Trial
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