PROVO — A Provo man who police say may have tortured as many as 11 kittens or cats to death accepted a plea deal Tuesday.
Spencer Jens Pedersen, 26, was accused of dousing one kitten with gasoline and setting it on fire. Another kitten — which was seen with Pedersen the day before it died and had yellow rope tied around its neck matching rope from Pedersen's garage — died of blunt force trauma.
Police said Pedersen may have attacked as many as 11 felines, and a neighbor reported finding eight dead kittens, including the one with rope around its neck, discarded in his backyard dog run. When police searched Pedersen's trash can, a dead kitten was found in a bag with its legs and jaw broken. A small amount of heroin and drug paraphernalia were also in the bag, according to charging documents.
Only the two charges of animal torture were ultimately filed, however.
Pedersen admitted Tuesday to torture of a companion animal and possession of heroin, both third-degree felonies. The two charges carry potential penalties of up to five years in prison.
An additional third-degree felony count of animal torture was dismissed in exchange for his plea, as well as a class B misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia.
In plea documents, Pedersen admitted, "I inflicted extreme physical pain to a domestic cat in an especially heinous manner."
Pedersen also admitted to possession of the heroin that police found in his bathroom, according to plea documents.
Pedersen's criminal history in Utah includes prior drug and arson convictions.
As part of the plea agreement, if Pedersen is granted probation, he is eligible to seek to have the third-degree felony counts reduced to class A misdemeanors after successfully completing probation. However, prosecutors are not obligated to recommend at sentencing that Pedersen receive probation.
The Humane Society of Utah, which said when allegations against Pedersen were first made public that it hoped prosecutors would not allow charges to be reduced in the case, expressed disappointed with the plea deal Wednesday.
"The Humane Society of Utah spent eight years helping fight to make animal torture a felony charge," executive director Gene Baierschmidt said. "We hoped that this law, known as Henry's Law, would be a deterrent for animal abuse and bring justice to those who committed such egregious acts."
"Spencer Pedersen committed disgusting acts of violence and premeditated torture, and our legal system will set the example of what is tolerable behavior by their treatment of this case. If Pedersen's charges are reduced, and he is not sentenced to the full extent of the law, we feel this sends a message to our community that this behavior is not taken seriously."
Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 24.