Animal Law, Boalt Hall, Crime, Deaths, Law Schools, Violence

Berkeley Bird Brain Pleads Guilty to Animal Cruelty Charge

Eric Cuellar (left) and Justin Teixeira (right)

Last fall, we started following the sad story of the killing of an exotic bird in Las Vegas. The deed was allegedly committed by Eric Cuellar and Justin Teixeira, a pair of law students at Boalt Hall (UC Berkeley). Last month, the Clark County District Attorney’s Office hit Cuellar and Teixeira with formal charges.

Today brings news that one of them has pleaded guilty. Who pleaded, what offense did he confess to, and what kind of sentence is he receiving?

We now have an admission of guilt from Eric Cuellar. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, this morning Cuellar pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of instigating an act of cruelty to an animal. Cuellar had no comment, but here’s what his attorney had to say:

Cuellar’s defense lawyer Richard Schonfeld said his client was pleased to put the case behind him. Schonfeld stressed that Cuellar was never charged with harming the 14-year-old bird.

Law enforcement authorities have placed the blame for that on Teixeira, who has been charged with four counts, including killing another person’s animal and torturing an animal. Cuellar’s allegedly smaller role is consistent with an ATL tipster’s description of him as “a total follower.”

What kind of sentence is Cuellar getting? I’m not an expert in this area, but it strikes me as not very harsh:

Justice of the Peace Bill Kephart ordered Cuellar to complete 48 hours of community service and an alcohol counseling class, as well as, pay a $200 fine and $150 in restitution to the Flamingo. Cuellar was given credit for having already served two days in jail. Cuellar must complete the requirements of the sentence by April 4.

But the consequences to Cuellar outside of the criminal justice system could be far worse. Even if he pleaded to just a misdemeanor, might it affect his bar admission? Even if he’s admitted to the bar, might it affect his chances of landing gainful employment?

After he was accused but before he pleaded guilty, Cuellar had his defenders. For example, one friend of his wrote to us:

[A]s a legal blog I’m sure you are familiar with the premise ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ Eric has not confessed to anything, and the police report confirms that no one saw him touch the bird. You should be ashamed of yourselves for printing these prejudicial comments when as far as anyone knows, Eric Cuellar is innocent.

Actually, he’s not. We understand the presumption of innocence, but we also understand how it is dispelled by a defendant’s knowing and voluntary guilty plea.

Now that Cuellar has acknowledged guilt, let’s hear from a source who did offer a negative opinion about him around the time this incident came to light. We withheld this opinion from our pages while he was still presumed innocent, but now that he has pleaded, we’ll share it with you. From a college classmate:

I knew Cuellar from UT undergrad. I was in the pre-law society with him, though I wasn’t nearly as involved as he was. He was always a nice individual, but he tended to get very creepy [when drunk]…. I truly hope this doesn’t ruin his career prospects, but to those of us who knew him, this wasn’t the biggest surprise. We knew he was bizarre, and we didn’t know he was this type of bizarre, yet we’re not completely shocked.

Finally, let’s remind ourselves of the awful allegations. An employee of the Flamingo Las Vegas Casino & Hotel sent us this heartfelt message:

[I]t happened about 8:30 a.m. in the habitat area of the Flamingo. A security camera caught them chase Turk, yes that was his name, into some bushes and emerge with his head and lifeless body. They then proceeded to toss the body back and forth all the while laughing. I understand they were intoxicated. My friend is one of the caretakers of all the animals in the habitat. We will be following this case closely and will voice our outrage over their actions and will be asking the court to punish them to the fullest extent of the law; animal abuse is a felony. No normal human with a kind heart would do such a thing, drunk or not. I sincerely hope they are convicted and will lose their law careers and their mom and dad can’t buy their way out of this.

We’ll see about that. Eric Cuellar, who pleaded guilty to a mere misdemeanor, might be okay. But Justin Teixeira, who faces more serious charges, could wind up tarred and feathered.

Stay tuned. If you have additional information about Cuellar and Teixeira, feel free to squawk at us, by email or by text message (646-820-8477). Our coverage will continue; this story has wings.

Law student pleads guilty in connection with bird’s death [Las Vegas Review-Journal]

Earlier: So Much for Flying South: The Alleged Berkeley Bird Beheaders Have Been Criminally Charged
Prior ATL coverage of Eric Cuellar
Prior ATL coverage of Justin Teixeira

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