LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Nevada felons serving serious prison time for violently abusing animals could be released on parole sooner than expected.
13 Investigates explains who they are, what they did and why their crimes are being examined from a different angle.
Their acts of depravity are considered one of the worst cases of animal cruelty in our state’s history. But Nevada law classifies animals as property, which means — despite felony convictions — these inmates cannot be classified as “violent” in our prison system, at least on those charges.
The law states that acts of violence can only be committed against another human being. But animal advocates and law enforcement officials say animal cruelty is usually a precursor to a bigger crime.
Animal cruelty images are often too gruesome to watch. In news coverage, we blur the video. But in life, actions are clear and raw.
“Anyone who can commit this kind of heinous act against a helpless animal, you have to wonder,” said Gina Greisen of Nevada voters for animals. “And we know there are links between animal cruelty, domestic violence, interpersonal violence, violent crime.”
Greisen has spoken for years about the connection between animal abuse and violence against humans.
“Animal cruelty is like the canary in the coal mine,” Greisen said. “You know, we have to fix it on this level.”
Example: Jason Brown from Reno.
“I would say he probably committed one of the most heinous crimes of animal cruelty in Nevada history,” Greisen said.
Brown was convicted in October 2015 on seven counts of torturing and killing small dogs in hotel rooms in Reno.
The canine killing spree ended when hotel staff found decapitated and skinned dogs in a room’s mini-fridge.
Police found brutal videos Brown had made of himself cutting up the dogs, stomping on them and throwing them to the ground or against walls.
Brown is heard in the videos saying he took the animals to his “pain house,” wanted to make a fur coat, and that “the pugs, instead of barking, sound human, like small children”.
Brown did not contest, saying he suffered from an addiction and could not remember it.
A judge sentenced him to the maximum: 28 years behind bars. Brown was ineligible for parole for just over 11 years. It would be in 2025.
But the Nevada Department of Corrections recently changed Brown’s parole eligibility, saying he could have been free in December 2019.
“It’s something that we, as a state, as a community, have to deal with,” Greisen said. “That at some point, he will be released from prison. But… is this the right time?
The Department of Corrections says some offenders, including Brown, have been wrongly classified as “violent” in the prison system. This is because Nevada law states that only one person can be abused. Animals are treated as property.
“I say it’s the kind of thing that intuitively doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
Lawyer David Rosengard of the Animal Legal Defense Fund says kicking a dog is not the same as breaking a chair. Animals are living creatures that feel pain.
“But the law, historically, hasn’t been there, and so it’s a process of catching up with the law,” Rosengard said.
Thanks to Cooney’s Law, which Greisen helped create more than 10 years ago, perpetrators of animal abuse can be charged with crimes in Nevada. But classifying them as non-violent property crimes means that credits for good behavior and work behind bars can shorten the minimum length of a prison sentence.
13 Investigators have learned that this applies to seven inmates across the state, including Weslie Martin.
Martin was convicted of breaking into Wayne Newton’s house and attacking Newton’s dog with a crowbar as he ran away.
Martin is now eligible for parole in April 2040, a year earlier than before.
Then there’s inmate Daman Holmes, seen in a video he made repeatedly punching a pit bull as he threatened a woman and her family. He is eligible for parole in July this year instead of September 2023.
Felon Johnathan Hamly broke into an ex-girlfriend’s house, assaulted her, then set the place on fire, killing three of her dogs.
Since he has apparently earned no credit, there is no change to his parole eligibility, which is next August.
Animal advocates want state lawmakers to change the law to ensure criminals like these are held fully accountable.
“There is a specific law that defines crimes that Nevada deems violent,” Greisen said. “And there are certain violent or sexual crimes. We have to go in and add certain acts of animal abuse, animal cruelty to that list.
It’s important to note that while most of the inmates in this story will be eligible for parole sooner, they may not be released. We will keep track of the date of their parole hearings and let you know.