ASHE COUNTY-A West Jefferson woman, who allowed her pet potbelly pig to succumb to the harsh winter elements last year, was convicted of misdemeanor cruelty to animals in Ashe County Superior Court Tuesday afternoon.
Brooke Michelle Severt, 26, was sentenced to 45 days in jail. This sentence was suspended for 24 months of supervised probation. She must also serve four weekends in the Ashe County Jail. She will avoid the longer sentence if she abides by the terms of probation. Severt was originally charged with felony cruelty to animals.
Severt’s conviction follows jury deliberations, which took less than half of a full business day. Her trial began Monday.
Her conviction stems from a Feb. 14, 2016 incident in which animal cruelty investigators found a severely emaciated pig at an Ashe Lake residence in the midst of near blizzard conditions.
Ashe Animal Control Director Joe Testerman and Officer Jeremy Eller described the scene that cold, winter evening during court Monday afternoon.
The pig, which was affectionately known as “Pig-Pig” to neighbors, was found covered in snow in a makeshift enclosure outside of Severt’s house. Icicles clung to his back. He was screaming. He was crying. The pig would not eat or drink water, said officers. By the time investigators arrived on the scene, they said “Pig-Pig” had buried his snout into the frozen earth. The temperature hovered around 15 degrees above zero on Feb. 14, 2016. A quick arctic burst of winter weather created whiteout conditions in the West Jefferson resort community. Officers said they quickly wrapped “Pig-Pig” in several blankets in a desperate attempt to restore his core body temperature before transporting him to animal control.
Despite their efforts, officers said the animal succumbed to complications that resulted from exposure. He died the following morning. Severt, who was not present at the residence, was notified of the pig’s death and her criminal charges in the coming days.
Severt’s trial began Monday afternoon following the impaneling of the jury. The district attorney’s office presented three witnesses during the course of the testimony. Severt was not one of those to take to the stand, as she reserves the right to refrain from any type of self-incrimination.
Severt’s attorney, Jak Reeves, said the case before the jury presented a complicated series of circumstances that culminated in the unfortunate passing of a family pet. He said the case is an example of youthful indiscretion and not criminal neglect.
Reeves said Severt along with her girlfriend left West Jefferson on Feb. 13, 2016 to travel to South Carolina because a near relative was having a baby.
“They gave ‘Pig-Pig’ fresh food and water before they left,” Reeves told the jury. “But guess what? Being a pig, ‘Pig-Pig’ ate all of the food and water. They had planned to come back. They didn’t see any issue at all.”
When Severt and her girlfriend reached Wilkes County the following day, a steady and sudden snow had begun to fall, so they decided to wait out the storm at the Addison Inn hotel, said Reeves.
“When they came home the next day, they found a note on their door to call animal control,” said Reeves. “The officers wouldn’t even tell them what was going on. My client was devastated. This had come out of the blue. Not only was her animal dead, but she was being charged.”
Katlyn Farmer was the second witness presented by the state. Her testimony was used to corroborate the state’s assertion that Severt’s alleged neglect of the pig warranted felony level charges.
Farmer was a neighbor of Severt. She was the one who called animal control to investigate “Pig-Pig’s” condition.
Farmer said she had become acquainted with Severt through their children. On Feb. 14, Farmer went to Severt’s house to drop off some “hand-me downs” for her children. After knocking on her door to no avail, Farmer went around the house to check on the pig.
“I was shocked,” said Farmer. “Pig-Pig didn’t look like the pig I was used to seeing. He was skinny. He was cold and just kind of disoriented.”
After wrestling with the decision to call the authorities to report the pig’s condition, Farmer relented and reported the situation to animal control.
After numerous cross-examinations and redirect of witness testimony, a superior court judge dismissed the jury for the day on Monday.
After the court room was clear on Monday, Reeves made a motion to dismiss the charges against his client due to lack of undeniable evidence that proved the cause of the pig’s death. He said the state had not sufficiently pinpointed that simple neglect had killed “Pig-Pig.”
The state countered this motion by stating that the animal’s malnourished state, coupled with witness and officer testimony, corroborated their claim that “Pig-Pig” had been neglected for some time.
The judge agreed and denied the motion. The case resumed Tuesday and a verdict was reached later that afternoon.
Reach Jesse Campbell at (336) 846-7164.