Criswells found guilty of animal cruelty

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Cheryl Criswell testifies during her trial on Thursday morning.

After a more than 13-hour day and two hours of deliberation, jurors returned verdicts of guilty for both Cheryl and Edwin Criswell on charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.

The couple were charged with the offense following the rescue of 116 cats and some other animals from snowbound trailers last December.

Neither defendant showed any noticeable reaction when the verdict was read at approximately 9:45 Thursday night. Also muted in their reaction, by design, were the roughly dozen volunteers from the Flathead Spay & Neuter Task Force in attendance, including director and witness in the trial Mimi Beadles.

District Court Judge David Ortley, at the behest of Deputy County Attorney Kenneth Park, said he will schedule a hearing as soon as possible to consider deeming the remaining 25 cats being held as no longer evidence and transferring them to the Flathead County Animal Shelter for adoption.

Sentencing for the Criswells is slated for Oct. 20.

Testimony in the case had wrapped up earlier Thursday.

Edwin Criswell retook the stand at the beginning of Thursday’s proceedings. He blamed other people involved in the rescue effort — ranging from Flathead County Animal Control officer Paul Charbonneau to All Mosta Ranch head Katherine Flentge Borton — for the resulting criminal charges.

“There was absolutely no [legal] problem ... until we got Kate involved,” Edwin said.

Cheryl Criswell, one of the last people to testify, agreed with her husband’s explanation.

“We were lied to and deceived,” Cheryl said through tears. She later added they were “also lied to and deceived in Idaho.”

The Criswells previously had been convicted of animal cruelty in Idaho in what was described as the biggest case of animal hoarding in Idaho history.

Both Criswells frequently referred to divine intervention supporting them.

“We didn’t have to worry about the animals because the Lord always provided,” Edwin said.

Cheryl said her point of view and her desire to rescue and take care of animals similarly came from her religious beliefs.

“Jesus said, ‘Pick up your cross and follow me, and that’s what I’ve done,’” she said.

She also gave more information on the deterioration of her health in mid-December. She said she already suffered from fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome, the latter possibly caused by ingestion of lead-laden water while running Camelot Sanctuary in Blanchard, Idaho.

The cold and lack of proper nutrition further compounded her problems, with her weight dropping to less than 80 pounds and frostbite setting in on several toes of her right foot.  

At the end of testimony, the prosecution recalled Katherine Flentge Borton to give a final description of the state of the Criswells’ campsite.

She put it in very stark terms as Cheryl Criswell wrung her hands and shook her head while Edwin Criswell sat with his head in his hands.

“I’ve smelled death before, and the whole campground kind of smelled like death,” she said.

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