Couple to return to court in CA tiger case

By Star staff
January 2, 2007

After a three-month delay, the federal court case against a former Tierra Rejada Valley couple believed to have owned the escaped tiger that was shot and killed in Moorpark in 2005 will be back before a judge this month.

In September, the case against Gert “Abby” Hedengran and Roena “Emma” Hedengran, was temporarily halted by U.S. District Court Judge George H. King because of a medical emergency in the government counsel’s family, court records state.

The couple face a host of charges involving animal welfare and obstruction of justice.

Lawyers for the Hedengrans and the government were to make minor changes to a plea agreement submitted in August and issue a joint position, according to the judge’s order at the time.

The hearing on Jan. 8 at the federal courthouse in Los Angeles will be the first since late September.

The Hedengrans had submitted signed plea agreements to the court Aug. 21 for their wrongdoing in the incident. The couple then asked to have a hearing on Aug. 29 delayed. They were expected to enter guilty pleas during that hearing.

King threw out the plea agreements because of questions about some of the charges. King wondered whether some of the charges the couple face are violations of criminal statutes or more properly heard as regulatory violations, according to court records.

Abby Hedengran had agreed to plead guilty to six counts, which included four misdemeanor charges for transporting exotic cats in enclosures of “insufficient structural strength” and in a manner that could cause them harm, exhibiting exotic cats without a license and keeping the animals in facilities that could not prevent their escape, according to court records summarizing the plea agreements.

The remaining charges were felonies: making a false statement to a federal authority, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.

Emma Hedengran had agreed to plead guilty to the same misdemeanor charges except for the exhibiting without a license charge.

Only the misdemeanor charges were called into question by King. He suggested they could be violations of administrative rules and subject to an administrative hearing before the Department of Agriculture. It does not affect the felony charges Abby Hedengran faces.

http://www.venturacountystar.com/vcs/county_news/article/ 0,1375,VCS_226_5251156,00.html

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