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Jury returns guilty verdict in animal neglect trial of woman who kept 17 cats in van

Woman who kept 17 cats in a van has motions pending

Posted: April 11, 2011 - 8:57pm
Christen Blake holds evidence photos on the witness stand during the final day of her trial Monday on charges of cruelty to animals.   Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Klas Stolpe / Juneau Empire
Christen Blake holds evidence photos on the witness stand during the final day of her trial Monday on charges of cruelty to animals.

The woman charged with animal abuse for neglecting 17 cats sharing her living space in a van was found guilty by a jury in Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg’s courtroom on Monday.

A six-member jury found Christen Blake guilty of cruelty to animals, a class ‘B’ misdemeanor, after a Dec. 17, 2010 welfare check on her van in Auke Bay Harbor turned up 15 kennels housing 17 cats in various stages of ill health.

A class ‘B’ misdemeanor carries a maximum of 90 days in jail and a $2,000 dollar fine.

City Attorney August Petropulos and litigation assistant Joanne Carson did not comment on what the city will ask for in a sentencing hearing. Blake did not accept an earlier settlement offer. A sentencing hearing cannot be set until after a motion to dismiss evidence is ruled on. Blake filed that motion two days before the trial began on April 6, claiming illegal search and seizure of her van by the Juneau Police Department. That hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

Blake requested that the cats be returned to her but Pallenberg cited a city ordinance stating that upon a defendant’s conviction the court may forfeit full ownership of any animal that was involved in the conviction of abuse.

Both Petropulos and Carson could not remember a prosecution on animal abuse being settled in Juneau court in their time as attorneys.

Hybrid counsel Marcus Rogers, appointed by the court to aid Blake because she was representing herself, was asked to stay on through the filing of appeal by Blake.

Blake also said it was disappointing that Pallenberg was such a hard judge and did not conduct himself as state Supreme Court Justice Walter Carpeneti would.

Before Monday’s proceedings began, Blake requested to the court that the press not be allowed in the courtroom because she believed the Empire was misquoting her.

“If the journalist’s report was inaccurate it would strike me as an undue restraint on the freedom of the press,” Pallenberg said. “I think it is not for judges, except in fairly compelling circumstances to review the accuracy of press reports.”

Pallenberg said the only situation where the court can get involved in matters of reporting is if there are some very unusual circumstances that affect the fairness of the trial proceedings and jeopardize either party’s right to a fair trial. Pallenberg said the jury was instructed to avoid any media reports.

“Unless I have some reason to believe that a juror is disobeying that instruction I rely upon the good faith of the jury and their willingness to follow that instruction,” Pallenberg said. “Even if the reporting of some media outlet is inaccurate I am inclined to assume, unless I have some reason to believe otherwise, that is not going to affect the trial because the jury will not have heard it.”

Blake also said that on the second day of proceedings Pallenberg had stated to her openly in court “We have had enough of your civil rights.”

“I consider that gross misconduct,” Blake said. “I consider that prejudicing a jury. I consider that bad manners in general, and I feel that this is not the first time I have indicated misconduct.”

Pallenberg said he did not make that statement and would not make that statement and if he made a statement Blake felt was inappropriate that prejudiced the jury she had a right to appeal and could take it up with another court. Pallenberg also said Blake could file a complaint of misconduct with the appropriate authorities.

The motion for a mistrial was denied. Blake’s request to remove a juror because she chewed gum was also denied.

Once those motions were resolved, Petropulos resumed his cross-examination of Blake. She said cats do not necessarily want to use the bathroom in a different place from where they sleep and that she did not allow her cats to run outside for fear they would be eaten by bears or eagles. She did, however, allow the cats to run between to large dog kennels.

In his closing argument Petropulos said there was evidence the cats were underweight with no access to food or water and covered in urine and feces. He also said the cats were deprived of sunlight and exercise and suffered from health issues.

“Is this neglect?” Petropulos asked. “That is the question before you today.”

In her closing argument, Blake said she was a person that rescues feral cats and that normally she stayed on top of things and quoted Mother Theresa. Blake said JPD lied and knowingly ruined her transmission, causing $4,000 in damage. She also pointed out her actions prevented feral cats from mating and creating, by her count, 142 unwanted kittens. She also said she gave a cat named Baby electrolytes when it was ill.

Blake said she was thankful for what she learned about cats having them in the van, that her cats were homeless before she took them in, and that singers Lenny Kravitz and Jewel lived in cars.

“I just pray to god that I get my cats back and this will all just be a very bad memory,” Blake said.

She also expressed her love for the cats.

“I have no doubt in my mind that these animals feel separation anxiety and miss me,” Blake said. “These animals were not uncared for or not provided for by me. There is a lot of misrepresentation of facts. I have been honest and I love my cats.”

In rebuttal, Petropulos said, “It is clear the city can humbly assert Ms. Blake is a troubled individual. Unfortunately troubled individuals can commit crimes and troubled individuals can create victims. In this case the victims are these cats.”

The jury came back with one question while deliberating, asking if the defendant doesn’t think she acted knowingly in failing to care for the animals, than can we conclude as a jury that she acted knowingly.

Pallenberg and the parties clarified for the jury that the city does not need to prove that the defendant acted intentionally, the city must prove that the defendant acted knowingly.

• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at klas.stolpe@juneauempire.com.

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