When he filmed his first animal crush video, Brent Wayne Justice, now 51, was unemployed, having lived for almost two years without income from his longtime bus-driving job. But was money enough motivation for animal murder? That's what Houston police allege. Earlier this year, officers arrested Justice and his girlfriend, Ashley Nicole Richards, a/k/a "Ebony Crush Goddess," for filming animal crush videos.
Crush videos—basically animal snuff films—are illegal in America, but this pair was selling the videos internationally. The videos all feature animals suffering from mutilation and death, but perhaps the most shocking one features Richards cutting off the leg and head of a baby pit bull with a meat cleaver. Another shows her stomping on a kitten's eye with a high heel, then slitting its throat.
The couple was charged on a seven-count indictment filed in late November.
After People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) found the videos—it took several days of investigation via the Animal Beta Project—they allerted the Houston police, and Richards and Justice were arrested on August 15. Richards confessed to killing two animals a day over a span of several years, including chickens, puppies, cats, mice, rabbits, and fish.
Justice and Richards are currently in federal custody until their trial. Unfortunately, because there is only proof of eight videos, the seven-count indictment can't be increased.
"Without hard evidence, they can't be charged for the other alleged crimes, even with Richards' confession," says Stephanie Bell, Associate Director of PETA's Cruelty Investigations Department. "However, we're hoping that because there are multiple charges, the penalties will be steep."
Richards and Justice each face up to 45 years in prison and a $1.75 million fine.
Asked what PETA will do if the federal case does not penalize the offenders further, Bell replied: "We feel very confident that the case is in good hands and the evidence is strong."
"It used to be challenging to track internet offenders down, and as a result, not many could be prosecuted, but that's changing. With our sophisticated strategies and valuable resources, violent offenders can now be charged for animal cruelty," Bell says.
But the problem persists. And some cases are even worse than that of Richards and Justice.
Take, for example, the crush films produced by Canadian low-budget porn actor Luka Rocco Magnotta. Wanted in 190 countries for committing fraud, Magnotto first showed violent tendencies when he filmed himself vaccuum-sealing kittens into plastic bags, and then drowning them. After activists in London were able to produce evidence of his actions, Magnotto claimed harrassment and fled England.
Later, it was discovered that Magnotto was a murderer, necrophiliac, and cannibal, with victims including his Montreal roommate, a 33-year-old Chinese student named Lin Jun. (Magnotto actually sent Jun's dismembered body parts to Canadian politicians.)
He was finally arrested in June 2012 after police found him at a Berlin Internet café looking at photos of himself. Magnotto is currently in federal custody and will be prosecuted for murder.
As for the kitten torture videos Magnotto filmed, Bell says: "Although we were able to link the videotapes in question to him, his face was not clearly visible in the footage and therefore law-enforcement refused to pursue it further."
It's up to all animal lovers to report potential abusers, says Bell. "Anybody who witnesses animal cruelty should contact law enforcement first, and if they don't see any action being taken, they should contact PETA."
When the stakes are this high, it's essential to report. Animals need humans to be their voice.
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