By Sylvie Belmond email@example.com
U.S. District Judge George King has delayed action on plea agreements by Gert "Abby" Hedengran and Roena "Emma" Hedengran, owners of a tiger killed last year in Moorpark, until last-minute questions can be answered.
The large tiger, "Tuffy," was shot to death by authorities near a park early last year. The tiger had allegedly escaped from an inadequate enclosure during the couple's move to the Tierra Rejada Valley.
"The judge indicated that he has a question regarding the applicability of criminal penalties for the misdemeanor violations of the Animal Welfare Act," said the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Johns.
King wanted to determine whether some of the charges faced by the couple are criminal or misdemeanor violations.
The judge, Johns said, questioned whether the federal act criminalizes factual violations agreed to by the defendants, because he found the plea agreements they signed and submitted ambiguous.
"It is ironic to note that even the defendants agree that the charges they have agreed to plead guilty to are crimes," Johns said.
However, since this issue has been raised by the judge, both sides will either persuade the court to accept the plea agreements "as is" or the couple will plead guilty to other violations of the act which the judge accepts as criminal, the prosecutor said.
The delay is a reasonable and technical action by a curious and cautious district court judge and nothing more, Johns said.
King has not questioned the real meat of the matter-Abby Hedengran's guilty plea to felony charges of witness tampering, and making a false statement and obstructing justice, according to Johns, who lives in Moorpark.
He agreed to plead guilty early this summer to six counts, among them four misdemeanor charges, including transporting exotic cats in insufficient enclosures that could harm the animal.
Charges also included exhibiting exotic cats without a license, and not keeping the animals in facilities that could prevent escape.
Both of the Hedengrans originally faced felony charges but Johns said he had agreed to allow Emma to plead guilty only to misdemeanor counts.
They were to have appeared in federal court in Los Angeles on Sept. 5.
Public defender Kimberly Savo, who represents Abby Hedengran, was unavailable for comment Monday and Emma Hedengran's attorney, Janet Sherman, said she had no comment for now.