Who, age What Where When Last Known Address
Lee Randall French, Jr.(1) hitting, killing a cat with a shovel

Beaumont, TX

Jefferson County

January 17, 2005  
Not disclosed, juvenile boy hitting, killing a cat with a shovel

Beaumont, TX

Jefferson County

January 17, 2005  
Not disclosed, juvenile boy hitting, killing a cat with a shovel

Beaumont, TX

Jefferson County

January 17, 2005  
Type of Crime Other Crimes #/Type of animal(s) involved Case Status Next Court Date /Courthouse
Misdemeanor (1) 9/25/06 charged with burglary of a vehicle 1 cat

Convicted

252nd State District Court

The Jefferson County grand jury indicted 17-year-old, Lee Randall French, Jr. on cruelty to animals.  French is accused of hitting and killing Miss Sophie -- a white-haired, blue-eyed cat, with a shovel in a West End drainage ditch in the 6800 block of Lexington in Beaumont on January 17th when students were out of school for Martin Luther King Day.

  Lee Randall French, Jr. age 17.  Photo courtesy of KDFM

Lee Randall French, 17, is accused of "intentionally and knowingly" killing a cat by hitting it with a shovel, according to the investigative summary. The animal cruelty charge is a state jail felony, and if he is found guilty, he faces a maximum of 2 years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

According to a probably cause affidavit, witnesses who live near the ditch called police to report that French and 2 other boys mutilated the cat.  The affidavit also states that one of the witnesses photographed French and 2 juvenile boys in the act of mutilating the cat.  The cat belonged to Dennis Vail.

Vail said it is disturbing that someone could do this to his pet.  They could have no possible reason except for the thrill of it.  In fact, the witness said the boys yelled and cheered while they beat the cat with the shovel.

French's attorney, Raquel Gale, says the cat was dead when the boys found it and there has been misinformation about the case.

Update 8/15/06:
A disturbing trend of cat killings over the past 2 years has put the Beaumont Police Department on edge and looking for a killer.

A total of 5 cats have been found disemboweled and then dissected along the drainage ditches running along Phelan Boulevard, Dowlen Road and Gladys Avenue and in neighboring yards.

This summer, residents of the neighborhood have found 3 cats tossed into people's yards -- a sign the violence may be increasing.

"It looks like a science lab dissection," Beaumont detective Tina Lewallen said of the cats' conditions. "We are afraid that this person is going to escalate and get bored with cats."

For Lewallen and the police department, the cat case is a top priority because severe animal abuse often is seen in early histories of serial killers.

Crime Stoppers announced it is offering a reward for any information leading to the arrest of the individual(s) responsible for the crimes. Those with information can contact Lewallen at (409) 880-3830.

For Tracy Winkler and her family, the reward comes too late. In May, she found the family's cat, 'Tiger," on the grass bank of the drainage ditch behind her home, without rear legs or internal organs.

"The condition of our cat was neither natural nor kind," Tracy stated. "All that my husband could carry home was Tiger's head and front legs -- the top third of his body."

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

Because all of the cats have been found with clean soft fur, it is believed they were all pets. The cat victims range in color from black to orange tabby and hair length runs from short to long.  "They are very prissy cats," Lewallen said, referring to their overall cleanliness.

Lewallen said she is concerned that home owners may not think of telling anyone about finding a dead cat in their yard, so many more incidents of animal abuse might be unreported.  "I estimate we have about 20 cases," Lewallen said. "Until people look closely and say 'Hey, this animal has been cut,' they may not notice."

In August of last year, Lee French, was arrested with 2 juveniles in connection with a cat mutilation in the same neighborhood where Winkler found Tiger.

French's court date is November 29th.

Lewallen does not know if there is a link between the cases but the cats were mutilated in an apparently similar fashion.

Update 8/16/06:
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.  "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 6 reported cases in the past 2 years, police have only made arrests in one. Lee French and 2 juveniles were charged with cruelty to animals in 2005.

Update 9/25/06:
French was charged with burglary of a vehicle.  Case #260340 in Jefferson County, TX

Update 4/27/08:
A Beaumont man who pleaded no contest to felony animal cruelty charges in the January 2005 beating death of a cat will be sentenced Monday.

Lee Randall French, 20, faces up to 2 years in jail when he is sentenced by 252nd state District Judge Layne Walker, though prosecutors have recommended he receive probation.

French, who was 17 at the time, is one of 3 teens prosecuted for beating a cat to death with shovels on January 17, 2005, in a drainage ditch off Phelan Boulevard near Lexington Drive, according to court papers.

Two other teens who were juveniles at the time of the crime have pleaded guilty to the charges and completed probationary periods.

In addition to the full range of punishment possible for state jail felonies, Walker can consider reducing French's charge to a misdemeanor.

Jefferson County prosecutor Ann Manes said she hopes Walker does not reduce the charge and requires French to complete a counseling course as a condition of his probation.

French's defense attorney Thomas P. Roebuck, who declined to comment about the pending sentencing, has suggested in court papers that Walker should reduce the offense to a misdemeanor and sentence French to deferred adjudication probation.

If successfully completed, deferred adjudication would not result in a conviction for French and the offense would not appear on his criminal record.

French has no prior criminal convictions.

Update 4/28/08:
French, Jr. now 20, who was expected to receive probation for killing a cat could possibly face up to 2 years in jail.  French pled no contest to the charge.

Judge Layne Walker threw out the plea agreement and decided the case will go to trial after French told the probation department he didn't do it.

According to witness Darrell Minton, homeowner and attorney, "I looked through the fence and saw one of the guys with a shovel.  He was beating the cat with all his might".  Minton, in his statement, described watching the teens exchange "grotesque, crude and profane comments after each blow."  In his sworn statement to police, Minton said the cat was alive when the boys were beating it with the shovels.

Minton's daughter, who was 9-years-old at the time, said she heard what she thought was a child screaming.  She still talks about it from time to time and it still bothers her that it happened.  Minton says he will never forget the cats screams as each of the 3 took turns beating the cat.

Minton had just bought his wife a new camera with a 10 power zoom.  He got the camera and began taking pictures.

"If he (Minton) hadn't gotten involved we never would have known (what happened)," said Vail, the cat's owner.  "People say its just an animal ... if you spend enough time around them you learn that they are all different, just like people."

Residents in the neighborhood say teenagers often ride skateboards in the drainage ditch and use shovels and brooms to remove debris.

French's defense attorney Thomas P. Roebuck was critical of the police department's handling of the case.  In particular, the defense attorney said investigators "lost" the cat's body after family members of the accused teens repeatedly encouraged authorities to preserve it.  "That prevents us from being able to evaluate cause of death," Roebuck said. "He (French) was 2 weeks past his 17th birthday and they want to prosecute him for a felony. It seems if you're going to try to do that, you should do your homework and hold onto the cat."

"It was a heinous act of animal cruelty and needs to be punished" said Cindy Meyers of the Humane Society of Southeast Texas.

The jury trial is set for May 12th.  The 2 juveniles involved in the case have finished serving probation.

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.

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

French's lawyers claim the cat already was dead when French and 2 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.  A necropsy is an autopsy performed on an animal.

"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 ruled at the end of the hearing.  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 she called Beaumont police on January 18th, 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 2 detectives to handle animal cruelty investigations, Beaumont police Detective Tina Lewallen stated.

"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's co-defendants, were younger and prosecuted as juveniles. Roebuck said the other teens, like French, maintained their innocence.

Update 7/14/08:
French was sentenced this morning to 1 year probation. Judge Layne Walker of the 252nd state district court found French guilty of the lesser included misdemeanor offense of criminal mischief. French, under the felony charge to which he pleaded no contest, faced up to 2 years in state jail.

French was ordered to complete 1 year of deferred adjudication probation for his part in the January 2005 beating of a cat.

Judge Layne Walker of the 252nd District Court found French guilty of the lesser-included misdemeanor offense of criminal mischief. Walker said he did not believe enough evidence had been preserved to convict French of the felony animal cruelty offense.

Citing arguments advanced by French's defense attorney, Walker said without the cat's body, French's claim of beating the cat after it was dead could not be refuted beyond a reasonable doubt.  "The most crucial piece of evidence was destroyed," the judge said.

Jefferson County prosecutor Ann Manes had recommended Walker find French guilty of the felony offense and sentence him to probation following a period of jail time.   In a brief hearing, Manes reminded Walker of sworn statements from witnesses who claimed to have seen the beating in a concrete ditch near Phelan Boulevard and Dowlen Road on Jan. 17, 2005.

The witnesses, 42-year-old Darrell Minton and 53-year-old Karen Priest, who lived in the area, said the animal was alive when they watched the beating from behind a backyard fence, according to their statements.

Gwen Vail, who owned the cat, said she was disappointed with French's sentence.   "I think he should have served some time," Vail said, failing to fight back tears as she spoke to the media in a courthouse hallway after the hearing.   "I think it's really sad and I think there's a good chance he will continue with this kind of behavior," Vail said.  The trip through the drainage ditch had been part of the cat's routine during the 10 years since Vail adopted her, along with her mother and siblings, when they came out of the woods behind their home.

The night of the beating, when Beaumont police first talked with the teens, their parents requested that the animal's body be preserved so a necropsy could be performed to determine what caused the cat's death.

The following day, a Beaumont defense attorney hired by the teens' parents reiterated the request to Beaumont police, according her testimony in a previous hearing. Police eventually told the lawyer that Beaumont Animal Control had destroyed the cat.

The two other teens, prosecuted as juveniles, admitted their roles in the beating and completed probation terms, according to statements in court from Manes and French's attorney, Tom Roebuck.

Before sentencing French, Walker made clear he found no fault in how the district attorney's office handled French's case.  "If they had been involved earlier in the investigation, all of the questions would have been answered," the judge said.

After French's case was investigated, the Beaumont Police Department revamped its handling of animal cruelty cases.

"I think what you did was incredibly stupid," Judge Walker said to French. "Even if the cat was dead, what you did was wrong."

Reference:

KFDM Beaumont Enterprise
Houston Chronicle