Letter from PETA urges incarceration for rabbit’s death

A national animal rights group is weighing in on the case of a Lawrence man charged with killing Melvin the pet bunny.

On Tuesday, the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent a letter to Dist. Atty. Charles Branson urging him to push for a “meaningful period of incarceration” in connection with the rabbit’s death earlier this summer.

Branson said the interest from PETA wouldn’t affect the way he handles the case against 22-year-old Austin Newport, who has yet to make his first court appearance.

“We will pursue this case just as we would any other case and seek all appropriate remedies and punishments as provided by the law and the facts of the case,” Branson said in a statement.

Newport is the first person to be charged in Douglas County under a new law that makes animal cruelty a felony in some cases. A police report alleged that on July 27, he put the animal – a pet he shared with his roommate – in a plastic bag, tried to break its neck and tried to cut it because he didn’t think he could care for it anymore and wanted to eat it.

It later died at a veterinarian’s office.

Newport acknowledged in an interview that he made a mistake but said he wasn’t acting maliciously.

Dan Paden, a researcher with the Norfolk, Va.-based organization, said he writes letters for PETA every week to prosecutors nationwide urging them to take animal cruelty cases seriously.

“Unfortunately, some prosecutors dismiss the information we provide them. They also dismiss the need to take these cases seriously,” he said.

“Thankfully, that’s rare. More and more prosecutors today are recognizing that crimes against animals are a red flag and need to be stringently handled for the sake not only of the animal victim but for the safety of the community.”

Newport is due to make his first appearance later this month.