Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Eric Norris last week refused to issue a warrant for the arrest of Douglas Lanier Orr on a charge of criminal animal cruelty for the shooting of cats, but Norris did fine the Broadlands Road resident $750 on five charges of code violation, also for animal cruelty.
Judge Norris ruled that the state animal cruelty law allows a landowner to defend his or her property from feral animals and that the evidence presented by Orr was that he was doing just that.
The county argued that Orr should have been charged with violation of state law, which prohibits cruelty to animals, a misdemeanor, or aggravated cruelty to animals, a felony.
On Nov. 10 of last year the county cited Orr, 70, with five counts of animal cruelty under the Oconee County Animal Control Ordinance. The incident involved the shooting of five cats and their disposal in a trash bin.
Orr did not contest those non-criminal charges at the hearing on March 11 and was fined the $750 by Norris.
Oconee County Animal Control Officer Nick Hensley recounted for Norris the events of last November when he was called to Orr’s home at 1430 Broadlands Drive, east of Watkinsville, by a trash hauler who reported finding a cat in a trash bin.
Hensley told Norris he found five cats in the trash bin, one of which was still alive. All had been shot, he said.
He said he also observed cats on the porch of the Orr home and feeding bowls for those cats.
Hensley said Orr took the injured cat and threw it in the back of his truck and drove away.
Orr took the stand and, in response to questions from his attorney, William W. Lavigno III of Conyers, said he shot three of the cats. He said he found the other two cats on his property and assumed they were shot by a neighbor.
Orr said he also kept chickens and that the trash canister also contained two dead chickens he had owned that he also found dead.
Orr said he shot the three cats after he found them in his barn suffering. He said he thought they might have ingested antifreeze or another chemical he had in the barn.
Orr said he shot the three cats to put them out of their misery.
Following the hearing on the request for a warrant on the criminal charges, Judge Norris read aloud the Georgia law and then gave a seven-minute monologue during which he explained the ruling he was about to make.
Norris said there was no dispute that Orr had shot three cats. There was dispute about whether one of the cats was still alive when Hensley arrived, Norris said, since Orr had challenged Hensley on that assertion.
Norris said that the law allowed an exception to the charge of animal cruelty if the person was protecting her or his property from an animal.
He said the county would have had to have proved that Orr was not protecting his property, including his other animals, when he shot the three cats.
The comments made by Norris in explaining his decision to deny the request for the warrant is in the video below.
OCO: Norris Ruling from Lee Becker on Vimeo
Prosecution Of Case
Hensley served as his own prosecutor of the case, which resulted in his calling himself to testify in favor of the request for the arrest warrant. He did not call any other witnesses.
Hensley was cross examined by Lavigno.
Lavigno called Orr as his only witness.
Hensley cross examined Orr after Orr took the stand.
At several points Orr referred to his experiences in Vietnam while on the stand. He said he had worked after his military service in real estate and as a home builder.
I was not at the hearing, but Sarah Bell was, and she shot the video clips below. The clip above is taken from this longer video.
The fine by Norris of $750 on the code violations is at the very end of the video.
"Hensley served as his own prosecutor of the case, which resulted in his calling himself to testify in favor of the request for the arrest warrant. He did not call any other witnesses."
What the what? An animal control officer served as prosecutor? Bleeping what the heck???
Mr. Orr got away with one here. I have family who live close to him. The fact that the judge believed him verbatim is sad and disappointing.
Why would the county prosecutor not bring the case, or at least the Animal Control Director or the Sheriffs department? Seems strange that a county employee of Animal Control would have to bring the charges. They probably are not versed in courtroom proceedings. There obviously was more evidence that could have been presented such as contradicting accounts of the reasons for the events that happened.
This is a shortened version of a comment posted to the blog on 4/15/2016. I eliminated comments that were not about the court proceedings.
I was present at Mr. Orr's hearing and was disgusted! Mr. Hensley was blindsided by the prosecution and by his own superiors. Why didn't Ms. Vickers take a more personal interest in such an important case? There was certainly enough time to do her homework on what was needed to represent the side of animal welfare. Taxpayer funds were used to have autopsies performed on those cats by the Vet school of UGA. There were statements taken from the women who found the poor cat that was still suffering in the trash can after being shot by Mr. Orr. These statements were disallowed by Judge Norris since those people were not present to be witnesses. Seems like someone should have known that it would be necessary to have them present. I checked with the Magistrates office and sure enough, the County Attorney is available to help as well as a few other attorneys funded by taxpayers.(Daniel Haygood is the County Attorney as well as the next door neighbor to Mr. Orr.) Meanwhile, Nick was up there on the stand all by himself like a deer in the headlights!
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