Video at heart of case against alleged opossum killer
Does Eagle Scout Carter Livingston have a “dark side” that led to him gleefully torture an opossum by hacking it to death – or is he “a son any parent would be proud to have” who foolishly sought to mask his discomfort over having to dispatch the animal with false bravado?
The opposing viewpoints were at the crux of the evidence presented at Livingston’s preliminary hearing Thursday morning in Nevada County Superior Court.
Livingston, 19, of Lake of the Pines, was charged with one felony count of cruelty to animals after he allegedly posted a video on Facebook that showed him hitting an opossum 44 times with a meat cleaver as four juveniles looked on.
Livingston pleaded not guilty in September and remains out of jail on his own recognizance; he is not allowed to be around animals without a responsible adult present.
Livingston’s lawyer, Thomas Leupp, urged the judge Thursday to reduce the felony charge to a misdemeanor, a move strenuously objected to by Nevada County Deputy District Attorney Oliver Pong.
Judge Candace Heidelberger chose not to rule on whether Livingston would be held to answer on the felony charge until she had a chance to review the evidence, setting her decision for 1:30 p.m. Feb. 4.
The video that Livingston posted on Facebook was the prosecution’s sole piece of evidence Thursday. Heidelberger chose to watch the DVD on a laptop computer, so the packed audience heard only the mostly muffled audio.
Even so, the squealing of the children looking on, and thudding sounds from the meat cleaver, clearly disturbed the animal activists who were on hand – some of whom had shown up before 7:30 a.m. to assure themselves of a seat for the 9 a.m. hearing.
Livingston’s father, Alan, testified he had killed an opossum in the past with a shovel at a prior residence, and had given Carter permission to dispatch the marsupial because he had trapped it repeatedly and was fearful it might be a threat to the family.
Alan Livingston said he was home at the time of the incident, but was working inside. He identified the onlookers as his 8-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter; his then-15-year-old daughter was filming the incident.
“There is an arguable right to kill an animal threatening your safety or property,” said Pong. “But what we are talking about is the manner in which the animal was killed.”
For one thing, Livingston planned the event, and he had rendered the opossum harmless by trapping it with a catchpole, Pong argued.
“He could have called Animal Control to dispose of the ‘possum,” Pong said. “It was no longer a threat.”
Instead of killing the opossum “expeditiously,” Livingston instead is seen on the “stomach-churning” video laughing and joking, and stopping at times while the animal twisted and turned in agony, Pong charged.
At one point, when his sister remonstrated with him that the opossum was one of God’s creatures, Livingston responded, “No, it’s one of Satan’s creatures,” Pong said, drawing an outcry from some in the audience.
“Everyone would agree this is a fine young man – except for this aberrant act that showed his dark side,” Pong said. “All creatures great and small deserve to be treated with respect.”
Leupp, argued there was no intent to torture the opossum, and that Livingston had refused to use a BB gun because that might be too slow.
He argued that the video showed Livingston’s difficulty in killing the animal, not his delight. He added that at one point the younger boy told Carter to cut the opossum’s tail off, which he did not do.
“He was trying to dispatch it as quick as he can,” Leupp said. “He says, ‘How is it not dead yet? I feel horrible,’ he says it’s taking a long time to die, he says, ‘This is weird.'”
According to Leupp, the video actually showed Livingston engaging in nervous laughter and mugging for the camera in an effort to display false bravado.
Leupp also pointed to a fat binder full of character reference letters, telling Heidelberger, “This is a son any parent would be proud to have.”
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, e-mail email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.
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