Federal Sentence Dealt in ‘Animal Crush’ Case

     HOUSTON (CN) – A Texan convicted for making animal torture videos won’t be held in federal custody, a judge ruled Thursday, crediting her with time she’s done in a Houston-area jail.
     Ashley Nicole Richards, 25, appeared at her sentencing hearing Thursday wearing a frumpy gray sweatshirt, sweatpants and glasses, completely unrecognizable from the slim sexpot who wore high heels, bikinis and Mardi Gras masks in the “crush” videos she made with Brent Justice.
     “Crush” videos are made by people who are sexually aroused by watching animals get brutalized.
     Richards and Justice, 54, both of Houston, were indicted by a federal grand jury in November 2012, charged with several counts of making and selling videos that show her torturing and killing puppies, chickens and kittens.
     Prosecutor Sherri Zack said at Thursday’s hearing that Richards is the first federal defendant to be sentenced under a 2010 amendment to the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act.
     Zack urged U.S. District Judge Sim Lake to make an upward departure from Richards’ sentencing guidelines, which set a maximum of 33 months, and sentence her to 84 months in federal prison.
     “I believe the crime is so heinous that 84 months is appropriate,” Zack almost yelled at Lake, authentic outrage amplifying her voice.
     “I can’t call what she did murder because she didn’t kill a person. But what she did is tantamount to murder,” Zack said. “She did this for financial gain and appears to be enjoying what she’s doing. She talks to the animals as if she were going to have sex with them. They are tortured and maimed. She urinated on them and admitted she ate one.”
     The 5-foot-10-inch Richards, who has gained at least 20 pounds since her arrest in August 2012, stood before the judge, a head taller than her defense attorney.
     She responded to Lake’s questions in soft and respectful two word phrases: “Yes sir,” and, “No sir.”
     Richards cut a deal with Harris County prosecutors and testified against Justice at his state trial. Justice, who represented himself, was sentenced to 50 years in prison on Feb. 15 after unsuccessfully arguing that a puppy in one of the videos was killed according to kosher rules observed by Orthodox Jews.
     Richards testified during Justice’s trial that she was a teenager living on the streets in Houston when she met him, the Houston Press reported.
     She said she had run away from her Waco-area home where clients of her mother, a crack-abusing prostitute, had sexually abused her as a child.
     Richards also claims to have suffered sexual abuse from family members that started when she was just 2 years old.
     She made a brief statement at Thursday’s hearing.
     “I apologize to the court. I was young, 16, and didn’t have anyone to turn to. I was basically looking for a family. I met Justice on a chat line and he said he wanted to set me up with a salon business,” Richards said. “I saw it was not true when he told me I’d have to sleep with men. I was just trying to get my son back and stay off the streets.”
     Lake was clearly sympathetic.
     “It reminds me of a case I had years ago with another young lady,” the judge said. “She told me the time she was in custody was the best time of her life because she was fed regularly and didn’t have to worry about being sexually assaulted. I’m not saying that’s the situation here.”
     Richards has been in state custody for 42 months. She pleaded guilty to a charge of cruelty to non-livestock animals and received a 10-year state prison sentence.
     Lake refused Zack’s request for an upward departure on the sentence.
     He sentenced Richards to the statutory maximum 33-month federal sentence under the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, acknowledging the “heinous nature of the crime.”
     But he granted her 36 months of “time served” in state custody, effectively nullifying the federal sentence.
     Lake remanded Richards to state custody and ordered her to serve three years of federal supervised release when she is released from state prison, and to receive mental health counseling and vocational training. He also fined her $500.

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