Many readers have posted comments on our website concerning an admonishment Criminal Court Judge Bob Cupp made to three women who wore T-shirts that read “Justice for Honey” during a hearing in his courtroom last week. Cupp told the women he was “offended” by the message, and said he did not need them to remind him of his responsibilities as a jurist.
“That’s what this courtroom is for,” the judge said.
The hearing was for Dustin Ricky Harrell, 21, 1178 Old Stage Road, Jonesborough. He’s been charged with aggravated animal cruelty in the death of a 4-pound Yorkie named Honey. We won’t get into the gruesome details of Honey’s death here. Suffice it to say they are heartbreakingly horrendous.
As a criminal court judge, Cupp is indeed responsible for seeing that all defendants are treated fairly under the law, regardless of what they have been charged with. Justice is not dependent on public opinion, nor should it ever be swayed by the passions of the masses.
Reginia Isenberg said that was not what she and her two companions were attempting to do last week. And they had no intention of impugning the judge’s character.
“Our T-shirts were tasteful, and we weren’t protesting, we were just sitting there,” Isenberg said. “We just wanted to bring attention to Honey’s plight, that was the only thing.”
Isenberg is the founder of a no-kill animal shelter in Sullivan County. She has spoken often and loudly on the topic of animal cruelty. She is also a Holocaust survivor, and knows firsthand the face of cruelty. That’s why she believes one very important reason for society to take the crime of animal cruelty seriously is that “animal abusers don’t stop at animals.”
She is correct. It has been documented that animal abusers are not likely to confine their disturbed behavior just to torturing or killing household pets. Animal abuse also can be part of a pattern of other violent acts within a family.
Experts say those who abuse animals are also likely to do the same to spouses, children and other family members. That is why this crime should be treated more severely than it is now under Tennessee law.
We are not offended by the message of Isenberg’s T-shirt, nor are we offended by Cupp’s defense of his courtroom, but we are offended by the lax penalties that are prescribed under law for aggravated animal abuse in this state. Current law sets the offense as a Class E felony, which means the most that a standard offender with no prior convictions could face is two years in prison. With good behavior, most never see more than six months behind bars.
State lawmakers have been asked several times in recent years to stiffen the penalty for aggravated animal cruelty and each time they have balked at the idea. We think true justice for Honey and all animals so cruelly treated can only come when the penalties for this abuse are toughened.