|Tue, Mar 11, 2014 12:18 PM
December 18, 2013 | 09:25 AM
A Depauw couple found guilty by a jury last month of single felony counts of neglect of a dependent and four counts each of cruelty to an animal were sentenced Friday in Harrison Superior Court.
Judge Pro Tem Elizabeth Swarens sentenced Samantha Sue Lee to a four-year prison sentence, with all but six months suspended, 1,000 hours of community service, and she'll be on probation for 3-1/2 years. Lee's husband, Randell, was sentenced to 30 months in jail, with all of the time suspended. Randell Lee also will have to pay various fines and court costs associated with a 30-month probation term.
Also, as a term of their sentence, the Lees, who operate Frisky Felines Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit no-kill rescue in the 5700 block of Milltown-Frenchtown Road, are only allowed to keep two cats during their probation period.
According to a pre-sentence investigation by Chief Probation Officer Shelia Temple, the Lees said they possessed 20 cats.
All but two cats were to be dispersed by the end of the day Friday, Swarens said.
The Lees were charged in December 2011 after 36 cats, three dogs and four chickens were removed from their home on Nov. 17. The Dept. of Child Services told the couple that their two children had to stay elsewhere until the home's living conditions were deemed more suitable. The children were allowed to return home after a couple of days, after their parents cleaned the residence, which photos showed as being filled with clutter and what witnesses at the trial said was feces on multiple surfaces, including flooring, clothing, a kitchen counter-top and near food.
Swarens said the 1,000 hours of community service was to be completed in Harrison County since the county was on the hook for approximately $30,000 in caring for the Lees' seized animals. Swarens said she believed there was no way the Lees could ever afford to pay that money back to the county.
Harrison County Prosecutor J. Otto Schalk said he was pleased with the results and noted during the hearing that the Lees' children were "far and away the most important victims of this."
"We thought the punishment fit the crime," Schalk said. "It is our hope that this prison time imposed on Samantha Lee sends a strong message to anyone who is neglecting their children or their animals.
"The evidence at the trial spoke for itself and the evidence justified the sentence that was imposed," he said.
During the sentencing hearing, Schalk noted that the trial was about accountability and responsibility and the Lees taking responsibility for their actions.
Swarens said Randell Lee has showed remorse, has a heavy responsibility in terms of supporting the couple's three children and any imprisonment would result in undue hardship on the dependents. Swarens said he could petition the court after his probation period to have his felony charge modified to a Class A misdemeanor.
"(This is) not about the cats; it's about the kids, and the conditions in the home that would endanger your children has me more concerned than anything else," Swarens said before sentencing Randell Lee.
She went on to say that Randell Lee failed to protect his children, which Swarens said was a serious matter.
"The next step we have is these animals, which have been housed (by) Harrison County Animal Control for two years," Schalk said.
Harrison County Animal Control Officer Bruce LaHue said one of the cats has been adopted, but 24 felines and three dogs remain. Other cats were returned to their rightful owners.
LaHue said potential adopters are screened and paperwork must be completed before an animal can be taken home. The cost of adoption is only four non-perishable food items, which will be donated to Harrison County Community Services. Animals can be viewed during normal hours, from noon to 8 p.m. Monday and Wednesday and noon to 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Animals also can be viewed at HCAC's Facebook page under Harrison County Animal Control.
"We'd like to get these cats adopted as soon as we can," LaHue said. "Our numbers explode in the spring and, if these animals are not gone by March or April, we'll have to explore other options to make room for new animals."