Judge rejects probation for man who admitted to throwing, stomping cat

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Eric L. Ford has until Oct. 11 to withdraw a guilty plea for animal cruelty or face jail time.

A Mississippi County judge Tuesday rejected a probation deal for an admitted cat-killer.

Eric L. Ford, 45, of 259 N. Park Ave. in Cape Girardeau, now must decide whether to withdraw a guilty plea for felony animal cruelty and face a jury or accept whatever sentence circuit judge David Dolan delivers. Ford has until Oct. 11 to make up his mind.

Ford's public defender and Cape Girardeau County prosecutors wanted to trade probation for the guilty plea. Dolan said he decided against probation based on the presentencing investigation from the state Division of Probation and Parole.

Under state law, judges are not bound by plea bargains, prosecutor Morley Swingle said.

Dolan also received more than 100 letters on the case, but said those letters did not influence his decision. "I got more letters over this than on some person that had gotten killed," Dolan said. "I have murder cases I don't get letters on."

Many of those letters were forwarded to Dolan by Swingle, who received more than 60 letters objecting to probation for Ford.

The letters began after the probation deal was announced early last month. Ford admitted taking a cat owned by Camilla Coy, squeezing it, throwing it against a wall and stomping on it. The incident occurred Aug. 14, 2004.

Prosecutors made no recommendation for jail time when Ford pleaded guilty. Swingle said prosecutors were waiting for the report from the Division of Probation and Parole before making a recommendation. Ford could have received up to 60 days in the county jail before beginning probation, Swingle said.

"I don't mind being criticized for the things I do," Swingle said. "I did not agree that he would get no jail time. I am still getting letters from people who did not understand that."

The charge against Ford carries a penalty of one day to one year in the county jail or one to four years in state prison.

Ford can withdraw his guilty plea because the judge rejected the deal for probation, Swingle said.

Ford's attorney, assistant public defender Jennifer Booth, could not be reached for comment.

The case was taken to Mississippi County on a change of venue.

Two people who took part in the letter-writing campaign said they were pleased that Ford will likely do time. Sue Penzel of Cape Girardeau, who urged people to write Dolan in a letter to the Southeast Missourian, said she is a cat lover.

"I just basically asked him not to gloss over this," Penzel said of her letter to Dolan. "It just kills me to see an animal in misery."

Jane Painton of Jackson, owner of two dogs, said she wrote to the Southeast Missourian out of frustration. "It just seemed like probation did not seem like the way to go for this crime."

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, ext. 126

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