MONROE, La. — Two Arkansas men who posted a video on Snapchat of a dog as they slit its throat were sentenced Thursday to probation and a fine in Louisiana.
Boots Stanley and Steven Sadler, both of Hamburg, Ark., pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated animal cruelty on April 19.
District Judge Carl Sharp in Morehouse Parish sentenced each to three years in prison, fined each $5,000 and ordered each to perform 480 hours of community service. The three years jail time was suspended. Both will remain on probation for three years.
Sharp held up a folder, several inches thick and stuffed with letters from citizens concerned about the case, before handing down the sentence.
He said he refrained from reading any of the material or watching the Snapchat video at the center of the case until the pair pleaded guilty.
Sharp said he read some before sentencing and was not unmindful of the outrage in the community but that he relied on the law, the evidence presented and the code of criminal procedure while determining the sentences.
After one year, an assessment of behavior and compliance with probation will take place and the length of the probation terms handed down could be amended.
If the pair do not pay the $5,000 fine, a 365-day sentence in the Morehouse Parish Jail would be required.
Each man can also make a $5,000 donation to the Morehouse Parish Humane Society to reduce their community service requirement to 240 hours.
Representatives of the Humane Society said that if a donation is received, the board would need to determine how to handle the funds.
Because of the connection to an animal cruelty case, any money received, if accepted, would likely fund a special project in memory of the dog, Justice, and not day-to-day operations.
The men are also prohibited from owning an animal for the next 12 months and must also undergo a psychological evaluation.
The charge of aggravated animal cruelty carried a maximum sentence of 10 years and a fine of up to $25,000.
District Attorney Steve Tew previously told The News-Star there was no agreement on sentencing when the pleas were entered.
In a provided statement Thursday, Tew said he required the defendants to plea to the harshest crime available.
"He applauds his assistants and staff who worked diligently on this case," the statement said. "Given the inhumane and vicious nature of this crime, the district attorney’s office requested that the judge impose a severe sentence commensurate with the crime.
Tew said he encourages lawmakers to introduce legislation to strengthen the laws that punish those who criminally harm and/or neglect animals."
In 2017, Doll Stanley, director of the Justice for Animals Campaign for In Defense of Animals, delivered a letter supporting the prosecution of Stanley and Sadler to Tew. It featured 21,000 signatures from around the world.
She said her heart was broken by the sentence after she realized the three years of hard labor were suspended.
"I've been in Mississippi on assignment for 25 years,” Stanley said. “I've literally had hundreds of investigations on cruelty cases. I can't even tell you how many times I've been to court. Sometimes you are disappointed. Sometimes even though it seems like it's not much, the judge really did the best they could do. This today is just a very, very sad day for me."
An initial arrest warrant detailed the Snapchat video showing the killing and footage of the dog before his death. It was recorded on Stanley's phone and uploaded to his Snapchat account.
Snapchat is a form of social media that permits users to message each other.
The video shows the dog on the back of a horse that was being ridden by Stanley. The dog was attempting to hold on to the rear of the horse.
Laughter could be heard in the video as the dog struggled to hold on, the document continues. The video ends with Sadler slicing the dog's neck with a knife several times.
Community members and activists have appeared at every hearing for Stanley and Sadler and many were shocked by Thursday's sentence.
"I am in shock," Lisa Roberts, a Bastrop resident, said. "I feel like they have gotten a slap on the wrist over something that is an absolute sadistic murder of an innocent animal."
She said she hopes this case and the sentence will bring stiffer penalties and laws protecting animals.
"I hope that people understand that this type of behavior is not tolerable in our society, not by us," Roberts said. “The more we gather together as individuals and as communities and fight this, I believe we can make a difference, but we have to stick together."