Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Lee French, 18 (1) 3 cat killed

Beaumont, TX

Jefferson County

January 17, 2005  
Not Disclosed - 2 juveniles (2) 3 cat killed

Beaumont, TX

Jefferson County

January 17, 2005  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Felony   3 cats

(1)Alleged

(2)given probation

Jefferson County 252nd District CourtCourt

The Beaumont Police is looking for a killer – cat killings over the past two years outline a disturbing trend. A total of 5 cats have been found disemboweled and then dissected along the drainage ditches running along Phelan Boulevard and Gladys Avenue and in neighboring yards.

Residents of the neighborhood this summer have found three cats tossed into people’s yards – a sign of violence they fear may be increasing.

Beaumont Detective Tina Lewallen stated that it looked like a science lab dissection. There is concern that this person is going to escalate and become bored with cats.

On August 14th, Crime Stoppers announced it was offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for the crimes. Anyone with information can contact Lewallen at (409)880-3830. 

In May, Tracy Winkler and her family found the family’s cat “Tiger” on the grass bank of the drainage ditch behind her home, without rear legs or internal organs.

The treatment of Winkler’s cat was similar to that of the other cats. All had been cleanly cut along the belly with their internal organs removed. It then appears that the rear of the animal is cut away. No blood or organs have been found near the bodies, which leads authorities to believe that the parts of the cats are being gathered for a particular purpose.

Because all of the cats have been found with clean soft fur, it is believed they were all pets. Lewallen stated that she is concerned that homeowners may not think of telling anyone about finding a dead cat in their yard, so many more incidents of animal abuse might go unreported. She estimates that there are about 20 cases.

Update 8/16/06: On January 17, 2005, three teens were prosecuted for beating a cat to death. Three mutilated cat corpses have shown up on the lawns of Beaumont residents this summer, prompting police to worry about the progression to human victims.

Many serial killers start out by severely abusing animals, Beaumont detective Tina Lewallen said. The cats - all apparently pets - were disemboweled and dismembered.

The police have not identified a motive for the killings but the cats were mutilated in an apparently similar fashion.

"I hope it's not for some ritualistic thing, but I don't know why else they'd want the organs," Lewallen said.

Of the six reported cases in the past two years, police have only made arrests in one. Lee French, 18, of Beaumont, and two juveniles were charged with cruelty to animals in August of 2005. On January 17th, 2005, the juveniles were prosecuted for beating a cat to death.

French's court date is now set for November 29th; the two juveniles already are on probation.

If found guilty, French could face 180 days to 2 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Update 5/8/08: If police lost a body in a murder investigation, it would be a problem. In an animal cruelty case, the stakes are not quite as high.

But whether it involves a human or an animal, a person accused of a crime has the same right to have evidence against them preserved, a judge said Wednesday.

Lawyers for a Beaumont teen accused of killing a cat with a shovel asked a judge Wednesday to dismiss the case because investigators destroyed the cat's body before it could be examined.

Lee French's lawyers claim the cat already was dead when French and two other teens found it in a Beaumont drainage ditch and beat it with shovels in January 2005.

If the cat had been preserved, the lawyers argued, a necropsy could have been performed to determine the cat's cause of death, perhaps clearing French of the felony crime.

"Forensic evidence doesn't have an opinion -- it just tells you what the facts are," said James Makin, who represents French, along with attorney Tom Roebuck.

Prosecution witnesses who claim to have seen the event contend the cat was alive when the beating began, according to court papers.

The case will go to trial despite the cat being destroyed, Judge Layne Walker of the 252nd State District Court ruled at the end of the hearing. Jury selection is set for Monday.

But the judge will allow jurors to learn about missteps made in the investigation. And jurors will be told French's lawyers were unable to evaluate evidence that could have proved the defendant's innocence or guilt.

"There is no question that destruction of the cat in this case is gross negligence at its finest," Walker said in the hearing.

The judge was deliberate in noting he did not believe the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office was at fault, but he said his court no longer would hear cases involving an animal death where a necropsy could have been performed and was not.

"We now live in a world where an animal is treated the same as a human in public perception and our agencies will have to change their policies accordingly," Walker said. "Our policies have not kept up with public desire to go after people harshly for animal violations."

Some of the changes Walker called for might already have been implemented.

Raquel West, an attorney who initially represented French, testified Wednesday she called Beaumont police January 18th, 2005, the day after the police investigation began. Police told her they did not know where the cat was. By the end of the week, she was told the cat had been destroyed.

Jefferson County prosecutor Ann Manes said in the hearing that the cat was collected and destroyed by Beaumont Animal Control.

To prevent this type of evidence destruction, Beaumont police now contract with a local veterinary office that performs necropsies in all potential animal cruelty cases.

Changes in the police department's handling of animal cruelty cases began in 2005 after French's case was investigated.

The department also designated two detectives to handle animal cruelty investigations, Beaumont police Detective Tina Lewallen said.

"We still don't deal with these cases very often, but we are handling these cases differently now," Lewallen said.

The detectives, Lewallen and Darrin Childress, have received training in investigating animal cruelty cases -- including evidence preservation -- that was paid for in part by the Humane Society of Southeast Texas.

French, who did not testify at Wednesday's hearing, pleaded no contest to the charges against him last month and prosecutors were suggesting he receive probation.

Walker rejected the plea, however, after French recanted, telling county probation investigators the cat was dead when he and his friends found it while skateboarding.

To resolve French's conflicting statements, the judge set the case for trial.

French's co-defendants, Manes said, were younger and prosecuted as juveniles. They have completed probation sentences after pleading guilty. Roebuck said the other teens, like French, maintained their innocence.

Reference

The Beaumont Enterprise KFDM-TV
The Houston Chronicle