LOS ANGELES – A Long Beach man who aroused suspicion when he sought a refund from an animal shelter for dead "defective" cats was sentenced Tuesday to two years behind bars for animal cruelty.
Steven Ullery, 24, pleaded guilty in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Long Beach to a single count of animal cruelty after a jury deadlocked last year in a trial involving the deaths of several adopted cats.
Investigators with the Los Angeles Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals began investigating when Ullery and his wife returned two dead cats to an animal shelter in 2013 and asked for their money back. They discovered the couple had returned three dead cats to another animal hospital a few months earlier.
When confronted, Ullery, who weighs 200 pounds, told investigators he had kicked a 5-pound kitten because it bit him, said Deputy District Attorney Paul Guthrie. He said he strangled a second cat to put it out of its misery because he thought it was having a seizure. He did not admit to killing the three others.
Jurors deadlocked 11-1 for conviction on all four cruelty counts in October, Guthrie said. Jurors said the one holdout thought Ullery acted in self-defense.
Investigators didn't buy Ullery's explanations once they discovered the number of deaths, said Madeline Bernstein, president of spcaLA.
It's not unheard of for people to return a dead pet, but the organization always investigates further.
"You wouldn't immediately jump over the counter and scream, 'Liar,'" Bernstein said. "To think that we would just not look into it is a bit naive."
A defense lawyer didn't immediately return phone or email messages seeking comment.
Because of the conviction, Ullery cannot own, care for or live with a pet for 10 years.
"Two years is a great sentence," Bernstein said. "Typically across the county we're battling with people taking these cases seriously. It's a significant crime, a violent crime and can be a precursor of violence toward people."
Ullery's sentence will be served in county jail, where inmates are often released early because of overcrowded conditions.