Animal rights advocates praised a 30-day jail sentence handed down Monday to a Lawrence man for an animal cruelty conviction.
"I'm very happy because before (anyone convicted) got a slap on the wrist and nothing happened," said Midge Grinstead, executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society.
Austin Newport, 23, reported to the Douglas County Jail on Monday to begin his one-month sentence - a condition of his 12 months of probation.
Newport pleaded guilty Nov. 19 to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge for attempting to suffocate a lop-eared pet rabbit, Melvin, with a plastic bag July 27, 2006. The animal later died at a veterinary clinic.
Douglas County District Court Judge Robert Fairchild sentenced Newport on Monday morning and included a $500 fine and $107 restitution to a former roommate for veterinary bills. Newport will serve one year in jail if he violates his probation.
When Newport was charged in 2006, it was the first Douglas County case under a stricter Kansas law that made intentional animal cruelty a felony.
"Austin found himself in a situation that spun out of control on him, and I don't think this is a bad person at all," defense attorney Jerry Wells said. "But he did something I'm thinking is a very foolish thing to do."
Although he pleaded to a misdemeanor, Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said prosecutors were satisfied he agreed to take felony-level punishment, which includes a psychological evaluation.
"When you get somebody who's doing something remarkably heinous to a defenseless animal, we want to know why," Branson said.
He said any treatment recommendations will be written into Newport's probation agreement.
Martin Mersereau, a supervisor with the cruelty investigations department for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, praised the mandatory psychological evaluation although he said the jail sentence "seems like a slap on the wrist."
"Hopefully the next time an animal abuser is brought before this judge, he or she will see more jail time. But that said, 30 days isn't going to be a picnic for this guy," Mersereau said.