PORT TOWNSEND — A Jefferson County Superior Court judge denied a motion to arrest judgment and sentenced a Chimacum man convicted of first-degree animal cruelty to legal financial obligations without jail time.
Denver Lee Shoop, 74, was ordered to pay $600, although the sentence has been put on hold pending an appeal filed by defense attorney Jack Range of Jefferson Associated Counsel.
Judge Keith Harper was conflicted with the argument, which could have led to the complete dismissal of the case.
“I’m stuck, and I’m not going to be happy with this, no matter what I do,” he said.
Range filed a motion to arrest judgment saying the state’s charges were too broad and the jury instructions not clearly defining what constitutes first-degree animal cruelty.
A jury found Shoop guilty last month of eight counts of animal cruelty in a case that focused on the emaciated condition of the bison Shoop kept on his farm. Each crime is a Class B felony.
Range cited an appellate court decision that concluded starvation, dehydration and suffocation as alternative means to commit first-degree animal cruelty, and the state only proved starvation as a condition.
There was no evidence presented during the trial to show either dehydration or suffocation, Range said. He argued the jury instructions didn’t specify only one of the alternative means and, therefore, the state needed to prove them all.
In a technical debate that cited decisions from the state Supreme Court and those from the Court of Appeals, Range and deputy Prosecuting Attorney Julie St. Marie went back and forth on what they believe constitutes legal precedent.
Harper heard from both sides and explained his reasoning, even though he was not satisfied with his decision.
He said the Superior Court Criminal Rules don’t have many methods to fix an error in charging or jury instructions.
“They don’t really have a mechanism to do that,” Harper said. “Believe me, I’ve looked.”
Harper said the prosecution should have made sure the paperwork was filed properly, but he also said he wasn’t in a position to arrest judgment because he believed the rule Range cited for the motion didn’t encompass his argument about alternative means of committing the crime.
“I realize either one of you are going to appeal,” he said. “I would not be a bit surprised if I’m dealing with this case again in two years.
“I always make sure I’m telling myself I’ve made the right decision for the right reasons. The only way I can do that with this case is to go through the explanation I just did.”
Harper also said he believed Range to be right on the technicality of the law.
The jury’s verdict was rendered on Oct. 10, and it was the second time Shoop was on trial this year. The first ended in a hung jury in February.
The bison were removed from Shoop’s property in April 2018 and rehabilitated at several locations, including Center Valley Animal Rescue in Quilcene.
The bison have since been moved to a permanent sanctuary at the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, southeast of Dallas.
Shoop addressed the court during his sentencing, emotionally emphasizing his love for animals.
He disagreed with St. Marie after she said he hadn’t shown remorse for the condition of the bison.
“I have never intentionally hurt an animal in my life,” Shoop said.
He said it was an extra long winter in 2018, and he knew his bison didn’t look well.
“I even cooperated with the police, and I was surprised when they told me they were going to charge me with animal cruelty,” he said.
Shoop talked about his advanced age and medical conditions, and Range said the property where Shoop lives, owned by one of Shoop’s sons, is on the real estate market.
“He’s hoping to find another place to live right now because he’s on the verge of being homeless,” Range said.
Shoop told Harper he wasn’t asking for leniency.
“Do whatever you want to do to me,” he said. “All I know is what the truth is, and I’ll die with that truth.”
Harper said the foundation for the charges was criminal negligence as opposed to premeditation, and Shoop has been nothing but helpful from the beginning when he was confronted with the charges and evidence.
The judge reiterated Shoop lives on Social Security income and has no intentions of owning large animals or livestock again.
“He became visibly emotional with some tears as he was talking here today, and he’s done that previously,” Harper said. “I think, in effect, he’s punished himself.”
Harper accepted a first-time offender waiver from Range, a condition that cut the standard sentence of zero to 364 days in prison to zero to 90 days, and he said he didn’t think any jail time was appropriate.
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].