Idaho teacher acquitted of animal cruelty

PRESTON — A jury acquitted the embattled Preston Junior High School biology teacher who was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty after he fed a live puppy to a snapping turtle in front of students.

The teacher, Robert Crosland, remained motionless as the jury delivered the not-guilty verdict. Shortly afterward, he made his way through the courthouse pews and embraced friends and family.

“I feel very happy,” Crosland said.

Some 50 people crowded a Franklin County district courtroom Friday to watch the trial, which featured testimony from eight witnesses and took an emotional turn when Crosland’s son shed tears on the witness stand in defense of his father’s treatment of animals.

“He (Robert Crosland) loves to see the kids hold (animals),” said Mario Crosland, who swiveled in his chair at times and appeared agitated at questions from Idaho Deputy Attorney General Dave Morse.

Mario Crosland wipes a tear while testifying in his father Robert Crosland’s misdemeanor animal cruelty case.

Witnesses included an investigator with the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, fellow Preston teachers and local students who described the feeding that purportedly took place on March 17 in Crosland’s classroom.

Students testified that Crosland brought the puppy into the classroom after school to feed it to his pet python Monte. When the snake appeared disinterested in the puppy, the students said Crosland removed the puppy from the snake’s cage and dropped it into a 3-foot-deep, 350-gallon aquarium containing the teacher’s pet snapping turtle named Jaws. According to witnesses, the turtle dragged the puppy into the water, drowned it then ate it.

Morse focused his questions on the turtle’s condition before and during the feeding. Three of the four students testified that the puppy was emaciated and appeared to be suffering from an illness. One described it as “chubby.” In a lengthy recording played for the jury, Crosland told investigators he believed the puppy was so ill it was going to die anyway — if the turtle hadn’t eaten it.

One student said the puppy appeared to thrash around after an initial bite from the turtle.

Students who testified expressed their affinity for Crosland, with one calling him his favorite teacher.

Following the students’ testimonies, Crosland’s defense attorney Shane Reichert moved to acquit Crosland citing “no evidence that the (puppy) suffered.” Franklin County Magistrate Judge David B. Hooste denied the motion.

Prosecuting attorney David Morse asks questions to potential jurors during Robert Crosland’s misdemeanor animal cruelty case.

Defense attorneys Reichert and Stratton Laggis called two teachers to the stand. Like the students, both testified of Crosland’s devotion to caring for animals in his classroom. One testified that Crosland shows up to school at 4 a.m., presumably to care for the animals. Along with the students, these teachers described Crosland as a devoted teacher.

Reichert and Laggis contended that Crosland was putting the puppy out of its misery by feeding it to the turtle.

“There was a sick puppy,” Reichert told jurors in a closing statement. “That’s undisputed.”

Morse argued that the puppy suffered as a result of the feeding, saying it was “flailing around and crashing” around in the turtle tank.

Jurors deliberated for nearly 30 minutes. Family and friends huddled in the courtroom waiting for the verdict.

If convicted, Crosland would have faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.

In July, Crosland pleaded not guilty to one count of animal cruelty. The allegation and resulting investigation from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office caught the ire of concerned citizens from across the country, snagged national headlines and prompted a statement from animal-rights group PETA.

Weeks after the story went viral, some Preston parents wanted Crosland back in the classroom. Despite being charged for the crime, Crosland returned to the classroom last school year.

Franklin County Magistrate Judge Eric Hunn recused himself after citing a conflict of interest involving family members’ relationships with Crosland. The case was assigned to Hooste.

Defense attorney Stratton Laggis gives his opening remarks during Robert Crosland’s misdemeanor animal cruelty case.

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