September 8, 2015

Houston Woman Convicted of Producing and Distributing Animal Crush Videos

HOUSTON—A 24—year-old woman from Houston has been convicted of creating and distributing videos depicting the torture and killing of puppies, chickens and kittens, announced United States Attorney Kenneth Magidson. Ashley Nicole Richards entered a guilty plea today, admitting she produced and distributed what is referred to as “animal crush videos.”

People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) defines the “crush” fetish as a cruel and illegal genre of pornography in which women are videotaped or photographed mutilating small animals for the sexual gratification of viewers. In crush fetish materials, women are depicted, usually barefoot or in high heels, stepping on (or crushing), torturing and killing different species of animals, ranging from crawfish, crabs and insects to rodents, rabbits, kittens, puppies, cats, dogs and other mammals.

Under federal law, it is illegal to depict—via photograph, motion-picture film, video, digital recording or electronic image—actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles or amphibians is intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury, and is obscene.

This is the first known case to be indicted in federal court since the statute was amended in 2010.

Richards has admitted to creating and distributing videos that involve puppies, chickens and kittens being tortured and killed. The videos are titled “puppy1,” “puppy 2,” “whitechick1,” “whitechick2,” “whitechick3,” “blackluvsample,” “adammeetseve” and “adammeetseve2” and were created at varying times between February 2010 and August 2012. In the “puppy2” video, which is more than 13 minutes in length, Richards is seen torturing and killing a blue Pit Bull-mix puppy in a kitchen. The defenseless dog’s mouth is closed with duct tape and he struggles as Richards strikes the dog numerous times with a meat cleaver. In the video, Richards chops off one of the puppy’s paws, then hacks at his head and neck. Richards is later seen severing the dog’s head and urinating on its body. In another video, described in court today, Richards steps on a cat’s eye with heel of her shoe.

Previous court records also indicated that during the videos, Richards is often scantily clad and wearing a Mardi Gras-type mask. As she tortured the animals, she engaged in sexually charged dialogue meant to arouse the viewer.

Authorities were alerted to the videos following an inquiry from PETA.

Richards was originally arrested on state charges on Aug. 15, 2012. A federal grand jury returned an indictment Nov. 28, 2012, and she was transferred to federal custody. However, the crush video charges were later dismissed on what the court cited as constitutionality issues. The government appealed that decision to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans which subsequently overturned the decision of the District Court. The defense then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging the 5th Circuit’s ruling. The U.S. Supreme Court denied that petition and remanded the case back to the District Court for prosecution.

Today, Richards pleaded guilty to all five counts as charged—four counts of producing and one count of distribution of the animal crush videos which were obscene in nature. U.S. District Judge Sim Lake accepted the guilty pleas and has set sentencing for Dec. 10, 2015. At that time, Richards faces up to seven years in federal prison on each count of conviction as well as possible $250,000 fine.

Richards also pleaded guilty to three charges in state court stemming from the same conduct and was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The Houston Police Department originally investigated the matter and worked in conjunction with the Houston Office of the FBI. Assistant U.S. Attorney Sherri L. Zack is prosecuting the case, while trial attorney John Pellettieri of the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division handled the appeal.