Case Snapshot
Case ID: 3377
Classification: Kicking/Stomping
Animal: cat
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Abuse was retaliation against animal's bad behavior
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Friday, Oct 15, 2004

County: Loudoun

Disposition: Convicted

Defendant/Suspect: Peter J. Landrith

Case Updates: 3 update(s) available

A man accused of stomping to death a 14-year-old cat named Luke is scheduled to stand trial Jan. 25, General District Court records show.

Peter J. Landrith, 38, was the cat owner's boyfriend at the time, according to an animal control officer. 
Landrith was at his girlfriend's Leesburg home on the 43400 block of Wild Dunes Square when the attack took place, according to the complaint, which stated Landrith grabbed the cat, threw him in a trash can and stomped on him several times.

Landrith was arrested Nov. 30 and charged with animal cruelty. He was ordered to stay away from the cat owners.

Case Updates

A Northern Virginia man convicted of stomping a cat to death told a Loudoun County judge that he regretted what happened, but insisted that his actions were a desperate attempt to stop the declawed, 14-year-old cat from biting his leg. The argument did not sway Circuit Court Judge J. Howe Brown. In sentencing Peter J. Landrith, 39, to three years in prison, all suspended, and five years' probation, Brown was emphatic that Landrith maliciously killed the cat.

Luke the cat was stomped to death in a trash can. The defendant, Peter J. Landrith, told the judge that the cat attacked him over a sandwich. "There isn't any doubt about that at all," Brown said. Under the terms of his probation, Landrith is required to undergo a mental health evaluation, barred for life from owning animals and obligated to maintain steady employment and a stable living situation.

Chad Cornell, the son, testified at trial that he found Landrith stomping his foot into a trash can. Luke was at the bottom, bloody and breathing heavily, Cornell said. According to Cornell, Landrith said Luke tried to eat his sandwich and bit him when he shooed the cat away. Landrith, however, testified that he dropped his tuna sandwich and when he went to pick it up, the cat latched onto his left ankle, his teeth piercing the man's jeans, socks and skin. To "disengage" the cat, Landrith said, he lifted his foot, placed it in the trash can and "thrashed." "I never meant to hurt the cat," Landrith said yesterday. Upon hearing his sentence, Landrith turned toward those gathered in the courtroom and smiled.

Allyn Cornell, Landrith's ex-girlfriend, was not among the observers. Reached by phone, she said she was pleased he was not given prison time. The probation terms are "all very positive," she said. "I hope he gets a good job and that he's well on his way to having a good life."

The case attracted attention from animal advocates around the world. Commonwealth's Attorney James E. Plowman said he received at least 150 e-mails, faxes and handwritten notes -- from New Mexico and Greece, among other places -- praising the conviction and urging a stiff penalty for Landrith. Among them was an Oct. 12, 2005 letter from the late comedian Richard Pryor and his wife, Jennifer, animal rights activists, who wrote that Landrith was "clearly a threat to society." Pryor died two months later.

Plowman declined to comment on whether the sentence was appropriate, saying he respected the judge's decision. Defense attorney Robert D. Anderson called the sentence appropriate. At the hearing, he argued that Landrith acted in self-defense. He urged Brown to consider a 1943 Virginia case establishing a farmer's right to shoot a dog attacking his poultry; Landrith had the same right to protect himself, he said. "If it applies to fowl, it applies to humans," Anderson said.

A friend of Landrith's described him in court as a compassionate man who volunteers for the homeless and has a "good way with people." She said she has never seen him act violently. Prosecutor Gigi Lawless asked Brown to sentence Landrith to "significant" jail time. She said Landrith was blaming the victim, Luke, whom she characterized as too gentle and arthritic to attack Landrith viciously. She referred to photos of Luke wearing cat clothing.

"They show a cat who allowed himself to be handled and manipulated by others," said Lawless, an assistant commonwealth's attorney. "They show a cat who was content to sit around in a sweater."
Source: Washington Post - January 11, 2006
Update posted on Jan 15, 2006 - 6:54AM 
After about 15 minutes of review today, substitute Loudoun Circuit Court Judge J. Howe Brown Jr. found a former Loudoun County man guilty of animal cruelty after he stomped a pet cat to death last year. Saying that although some of the commonwealth's witnesses were "way over the top," Brown believed the man's actions went beyond common sense and self defense.

When the incident happened on Oct. 15, 2004, Peter Landrith, 39, was living with his then-girlfriend, Allyn Cornell, on Wild Dunes Square in Leesburg. Landrith testified that he was looking for a piece of equipment in the home's basement, while holding a tuna sandwich, when the white and tan domestic cat, Luke, hissed at him. Landrith said he dropped the sandwich, at which time the cat attacked his leg. He said the cat died when he attempted to get it off his leg.

That testimony differed from that of Chad Cornell, who was the only witness of the attack. Chad Cornell said he heard the cat screeching and when he ran to see what was happening, he saw Landrith stomping the cat inside a trash can. He said that Landrith told him that he got mad at the cat because it tried to eat his sandwich and bit him.

The cat was described by one female witness as old and "very, very gentle," although it had bitten her and a child in the past. The woman said she was playing with the cat and as her hair dangled in the animal's face, it swiped at her and nipped her eyebrow. The other incident was when a child who was playing with the cat was bitten in the face, but did not require serious medical attention. That child did not testify.

Landrith's testimony was put in question again when Allyn Cornell said she made Landrith a Braunschweiger sandwich, not tuna, earlier that day. She said the sandwich was never touched and was left on the table.

Prosecutor GiGi Lawless said that Chad Cornell's statement that he heard the cat cry and saw Landrith stomping the cat was critical to the case. She said that Landrith's claim of self defense doesn't hold weight because the cat was de-clawed and not very agile.

"The commonwealth believes that it is a totally inconceivable argument," she said, adding that Landrith is a 6 foot 4 inch, 200 pound man, and Luke was an old, 14-pound cat.

She said Landrith planned the attack because he placed a black garbage bag in the trash can-one that normally didn't have such a bag in it-and he had a pair of latex gloves in his pant's pocket.

"There really is not good explanation why the defendant would have a pair of latex gloves in his back pocket unless he planned to dispose of the [cat's] body," Lawless said.

"Is it your theory that he set out to do this," Brown asked Lawless.

"Yes, it was a deliberate act," she answered.

Lawless said Landrith went beyond what would be reasonably necessary to protect himself from a cat.

"Stomping a cat to death is not a reasonable response to the bite, if the bite occurred at all," she said.

Landrith's attorney, Robert Anderson, said there is not a lot of case law on animal cruelty cases similar to this one because the statute under which his client is charged is "relatively recent." He cited a 1943 Supreme Court case in which a person shot a dog after it had broken through a fence and was attacking his chickens. The man was found guilty of animal cruelty for killing the dog. He appealed and the conviction was overturned after the court determined the man had a right to protect his birds.

"If it applies to chickens it should apply to a human being," Anderson said, adding that the cat was attacking his client.

Anderson said Landrith's response was spontaneous, not planned.

The judge said he found the statute "curious" because it states that a person can take reasonable steps to protect an animal, but "it doesn't say anything about a human being."

Brown asked Anderson if there is any point in which defending oneself from a cat attack can go too far. Anderson replied that Landrith stopped when the cat released from his leg.

"I've got to believe your client in order to find him not guilty," Brown said. "... If it happened like Chad said it did, then he's guilty."

"No, sir," Anderson replied, asking the judge to define what would be unnecessary self defense because there is not much legal precedent defining such an act.

Brown then turned his questioning back to Lawless, asking her a hypothetical question of assuming a cat latched onto a person's leg, bit through his jeans, and flesh. Is that person allowed to do what he needs to do-including killing the cat-to get it to stop attacking, the judge asked.

Lawless agreed that if Landrith was telling the truth, then there could be reasons to acquit him, but she stressed that she doubted his testimony.

Brown returned after a 15-minute recess to review the testimony and his notes and said it defied "common sense that the cat latched" onto Landrith's leg and inflicted injury. He said it was beyond a reasonable doubt that Landrith went beyond self defense that day to "unnecessarily" kill the cat.

He scheduled sentencing for Jan. 10.

Lawless asked the judge to revoke Landrith's $5,000 bond until the sentencing, but Anderson argued that his client has shown up to every court date and will continue to be present. Testifying again for a brief moment, Landrith said he lives in a motel in Alexandria and is not currently employed. When asked, he told Anderson he does not have a prior criminal record.

But Lawless asked Landrith about a 1997 conviction in California of receiving stolen property. Landrith stared up at the ceiling, appearing as if he was thinking, and then said he thought the charge had been dismissed after he followed the court's orders. Then Lawless asked Landrith about a disorderly conduct conviction during the same year, to which Landrith replied he did not remember the conviction.

Brown decided to allow Landrith to remain on bond with the conditions that he be in contact with the probation office in preparation of his pre-sentencing report and that he notify the office if he moves out of the hotel before Jan. 10.

After the hearing, the family that owned the cat declined comment. Landrith said after the bench trial that Chad Cornell's testimony was not credible and then he walked away. About 10 minutes later he came back and said that "this has been a smear campaign by a bitter ex-girlfriend."

"I'm not ashamed of my behavior," Landrith said, as he smoked a cigarette outside the courthouse.

The animal cruelty charge is a Class 6 felony, carrying a maximum sentence of five years in prison.
Source: Leesburg Today - Oct 7, 2005
Update posted on Oct 10, 2005 - 6:53PM 
On January 25, 2005 in General District Court, Judge Julia Cannon said there was enough evidence provided during the preliminary hearing to send Peter J. Landrith's case to a Loudoun grand jury next month.

During the preliminary hearing, Loudoun Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Toinette Reynolds provided pictures to the court that showed the pet cat "Luke" was brutally stomped to death. The alleged attack occurred at a home on Wild Dunes Square in Leesburg, where Landrith was living with his girlfriend and the woman's adult children.
Update posted on Jan 26, 2005 - 8:59AM 


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