A Davis County man who is already facing animal cruelty charges in state court is now accused in federal court of filming and torturing guinea pigs and putting the videos online.
Samuel Jonas Webster, 18, of Woods Cross, was indicted by a federal grand jury in Utah last Wednesday on 23 counts relating to the depiction of animal cruelty. Webster was booked into the Davis County Jail on Monday.
Webster purchased three guinea pigs from pet stores in Farmington, Salt Lake City and West Jordan between Oct. 16 and Oct. 25.
Charging documents detail 18 videos uploaded to a YouTube account — which has since been taken down — that allegedly shows Webster breaking the guinea pigs' bones, cutting them with knives and ripping off body parts, among other explicit, graphic forms of torture. The videos also featured names like "Guinea Pig Torture," "Ripped a piece of her ear" and "Torture is addicting."
Investigators say Webster would post comments on the YouTube videos in response to people calling for his arrest. Webster wrote online, "Killing and torture is my favorite activity," "Somebody help me before I kill everyone else" and "Torture is like a drug to me, it's very addicting. Hearing the scream of pain is so satisfying," according to charging documents.
The federal court documents are similar to those filed in Farmington's 2nd District Court on Nov. 1. Webster was charged with five counts of aggravated cruelty to an animal, a class A misdemeanor.
Police in West Bountiful and Woods Cross received multiple tips in late October about the YouTube channel that featured at least 17 videos depicting the torture and killing of guinea pigs. Investigators "found the videos disturbing and coordinated an online effort to search for the individual responsible," before finding evidence that Webster was behind the channel, according to state court charges.
Before the YouTube channel was removed for multiple policy violations, online sleuths saved the videos and took screenshots of the videos. Those investigators later created a Reddit forum where people could analyze the videos in the hopes of finding the identity of the torturer. The online investigators later concluded that Webster was the assailant, and reported him to police, charging documents state.
Shortly after receiving the tips, police served a search warrant on Webster's home and found the shed where the videos were filmed, in addition to "corroborating evidence," according to the charging documents. A police affidavit says officers found blood splatter and animal remains during the search.
Webster was arrested and booked in jail before posting bail shortly thereafter.
In a motion filed Friday, federal prosecutors indicated they are seeking to hold Webster in jail, as they note he could be a flight risk to avoid prosecution. The motion also details Webster's alleged activity online.
Prosecutors say that Discord — an online chat application where people have digital spaces to socialize — disabled two of Webster's accounts in March 2021. One account was disabled due to "posting content that sexualized individuals under the age of 18," while the other account was disabled due to "his posting of gore, animal cruelty or other content intended to shock others," according to the motion for detention.
Federal investigators also say that cookie data suggests in August 2021 Webster visited multiple website domains relating to rape. Subsequent web searches indicate Webster searched for how much a hamster would cost, where to buy rabbits, and "killing and torture a guinea pig," the motion says.
Following his October arrest, photos taken from Webster's home appeared to show a tablet device and a two terabyte hard drive in the home, though police did not seize either device. During a subsequent search in March, police did not recover either device seen in the photographs.
Federal prosecutors argued in the motion for detention that Webster, "demonstrated a quick, nimble and sophisticated ability to adapt and change his various media accounts when banned by the platforms he used to post his illegal videos. He also demonstrated this same ability to hide his internet searches." They also note that Webster allegedly hid the purchase of four guinea pigs from close family for several days.
Webster's state case was still ongoing as of Tuesday, as there is a competency evaluation pending. If convicted, each misdemeanor charge carries a maximum sentence of up to one year in jail. In his federal case, each animal cruelty charge carries a potential maximum term of seven years in prison.