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CONVICTED: Was justice served?
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Thursday, Nov 30, 2000County: Contra Costa
Defendant/Suspect: James Schmerker
Two Contra Costa families are suing their neighbors and the owner of a Lafayette pest control company for setting a body-crushing trap that killed their pets last year in separate incidents.
The lawsuit claims negligence by James Schmerker, co-owner of Animal Damage Control, and by McRae and Mary Gardner of Danville and Stacey Dunne of Lafayette, who hired the firm to snare raccoons that were damaging their properties.
Schmerker used a Conibear trap which has spring-loaded bars intended to crush an animal when it steps on a trigger. Instead of capturing raccoons or other wild animals, the trap fatally gripped felines Soccer and Toby.
Schmerker was found guilty in October of doing pest control without a license and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation. He served 10 days in County Jail in Martinez.
When Deputy Anderson went to Schmerker's home, he found 10 recently killed dead animals, many still in body-crushing traps, plus a freezer full of animal bodies, plus one live raccoon (which was left in Schmerker's "care").
On January 5th, 2001, when Lafayette officers and Animal Control returned to Schmerker's home, they found more freshly killed dead animals, plus firearms, which included an illegal assault rifle and a stolen handgun with hundreds of rounds of ammunition. They confiscated the firearms but left the animals' bodies and the trapping equipment behind.
On January 28th, Schmerker's 32-year-old brother, Brett, was in the driveway of their house burning animals that were in traps with a blowtorch.
On January 29th, Schmerker was scheduled to show up for a probation violation hearing at the Walnut Creek Courthouse. He did not show up. Schmerker was already a fugitive for not having reported to jail on January 25th as ordered by a judge in a non-trapping-related felony conviction for illegal possession of firearms/methamphetamine. Consequently, Judge Van Voorhis ordered a no-bail warrant issued for his arrest.
Nothing happened until February 8, when Schmerker was arrested. He was brought before a judge on February 9. The district attorney's office declined to file new charges for the more recent killings. Also, the court at that time reinstated Schmerker's 90-day sentence on the original trapping charge, but removed its "concurrent" status--meaning he would have to serve these 90 days in addition to (rather than at the same time as) the time he was to serve on the guns/methamphetamine charges.
On February 20th, the Martinez court scheduled a probation conference for the felony methamphetamine/gun conviction. However, in court on February 20th, when Schmerker's name was called, he did not answer. The judge then issued a bench warrant for Schmerker's arrest. At that point, Voices For Pets spoke up and informed the judge that Schmerker was already in custody. The judge then scheduled another probation conference hearing for March 6th, where behind closed doors, Schmerker's original sentence of six months was reinstated. There was no additional time for repeatedly violating court orders, no new charges for the illegal assault rifle or the stolen .45 handgun, or for being a felon in possession of guns.
For the two cases combined, Schmerker will serve: Three months for the misdemeanor trapping without a license, and six months for the original meth/guns, for a total of nine months. With 24 days already served, and an automatic one day off for every two days served, Schmerker will be back in the community again within six months.
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