Cat hoarder violates probation, heads to prison

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A man convicted with his wife of felony aggravated cruelty to animals in September 2011 following the rescue of 116 cats from their snowbound trailers is heading to prison.

Edwin Criswell was sentenced Thursday to two years with the Montana Department of Corrections after he failed to meet requirements of his two-year deferred sentence, violating his probation.

A jury convicted Edwin and Cheryl Criswell on Sept. 8, 2011, after two hours of deliberation following a three-day trial.

Cheryl Criswell was given a six-year deferred sentence; Edwin received a two-year deferred sentence. Each was ordered to pay more than $1,000 in fees and together they were ordered to pay almost $15,000 in restitution to the Flathead County Animal Shelter for care of the cats.

During Thursday’s hearing before Flathead Judge Heidi Ulbricht, Edwin Criswell admitted testing positive for marijuana and methamphetamine, although he said the marijuana was OK because he had a medical marijuana card. His probation officer, Paul Parrish, testified that medical marijuana cards are revoked when the holder is convicted of a felony, rendering Criswell’s card void.

Criswell also was accused of failing to pay his financial obligations, although he said he was paying the probation office every month.

“I don’t know where the money’s going,” he said.

Parrish said while Criswell had been paying his monthly $21 supervision fee, he had failed to make a single payment on his public defender fees, surcharge or restitution.

He further said Criswell had not gained or maintained meaningful employment, which Criswell  denied.

Criswell claimed he had been working at Samaritan House to complete his required 200 hours of community service, and that when he finished those hours, his work for the agency would become a regular job for which he would be paid. He said he had completed his hours shortly before being arrested.

Parrish testified that Criswell had only performed 150 hours of community service, and that the requirements of his sentence stated he had to both complete the hours and remain gainfully employed — not one or the other.

He also questioned what work Criswell had done for pay, saying it was all under the table.

“If you’re not paying taxes, you’re not gainfully employed,” Parrish said.

Separately, the Criswells are awaiting a ruling on an appeal of their sentence to the Montana Supreme Court.

In March 2012, Cheryl Criswell explained why they planned to appeal.

“Let’s just say there were some mistakes made during the trial, enough that an appeal is warranted,” she said. “We are not guilty and I will take it to the Supreme Court of the United States if I have to.”

She said she believed the only reason they were charged and eventually convicted was because of the people involved in rescuing themselves and their animals. The same sentiment was shared by her husband in his testimony during the trial — he blamed their charges on an animal control officer and others.

“We just picked up the cross and followed Jesus, but we didn’t find the right people to help us,” Cheryl Criswell said. “We found control freaks and some manipulators, and they managed to get their way.”

The appeal was filed Aug. 31, 2012.

Reporter Jesse Davis may be reached at 758-4441 or by email at jdavis@dailyinterlake.com.

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