By Diana Starr, Contributions By Davin Eldridge | Trappalachia
Editor’s Note: A short video of Wednesday’s court proceedings can be viewed at the bottom of the page.
Developments in the high-profile case of an alleged ritual cat killing took center stage in Buncombe County District Court this week.
The release of Instagram photos of a mutilated cat led to the arrest of three individuals late last month. Those defendants appeared in court on Wednesday. The case gained widespread attention by area news outlets in recent weeks throughout Western North Carolina due to the horrific allegations faced by the defendants.
Widespread outrage within the community brought two dozen representatives of Asheville Cat Weirdos—a local group dedicated to the celebration of all things feline—to the courtroom. Also in attendance was the family of the deceased cat, “Kitty”; Melissa and Aaron Naster.
According to authorities, Jace Lee Greene, 28, Shariah Jessamyn Metzger, 26, and Zackery Eugene “Spoons” Greene, 30, who is not in custody, are believed to have ritualistically tortured, killed and mutilated Kitty.
Clues to how the defense of the accused might shape up were revealed during Wednesday’s pretrial hearing. Over the objections of the defense, District Court Judge Calvin Hill continued the cases until Dec. 11 and changed the bonds of Metzger and Greene from secured to unsecured, adding three release conditions.
Metzger and Greene have been held in custody since Oct 28, on misdemeanor charges of improper burial of an animal and instigating animal cruelty. Both defendants were being held on $20,000 secured bond until Greene’s bail was reduced by Judge Hill to $2,000 secured on Nov. 8, while Metzger’s remained at $20,000 secured. The alleged killing occurred on Oct. 24.
Buncombe County Assistant District Attorney Jeremey Ingle asked the court for a one-month continuance, citing the case’s ongoing investigation regarding the current charges against the defendants. Metzger’s defense counsel, Michael Casterline, and Greene’s defense, Michael Macht, both objected.
Audible gasps from the courtroom could be heard when Casterline stated that a dog killed Kitty and “it would be difficult for the state to prove either of these charges.” Casterline went on to argue that his client was being held on an “extremely high bond” compared to the relatively minor offenses, Class 1 and Class 3 misdemeanors, she is charged with.
With no prior convictions, Casterline argued that his client wouldn’t be facing an active sentence and stated that, even if Metzger pled guilty, she would walk out of custody and be on probation at worst, or out on time served.
Macht argued that the case was originally charged as a state ordinance violation and his client has been in custody for more than 2 weeks while investigators looked to add even more charges. He stated, “My client unfortunately remains in custody despite the fact that the DA’ s office was kind enough to relay to us today that again this was an animal that was killed by the hands of another animal, so it was killed by what the necropsy results turned out by a dog.”
Judge Hill granted the state’s request for continuance, adding that since neither of the defendants have any prior convictions, and since it’s unlikely that they’ll do any jail time, he could not justify keeping Greene or Metzger in custody any longer—even if Greene gets convicted on pending assault charges from Mecklenburg County.
Along with unsecured bonds, the court issued the defendants additional supervision orders; a direct assignment to pre-trial release, that they have or possess no animals, have no contact with any animals, and that they abide by a 7 p.m. curfew. According to arrest records, the defendants have no listed addresses and are essentially considered transients— a stipulation which puzzled many in the courtroom, as it’s not clear how the state will ensure their compliance.
After the hearing, Trappalachia caught up with Kitty’s family member, Aaron Naster, for an update on how it’s been holding up since losing their loved one.
“We’re doing okay,” Naster said. “My son doesn’t show his emotions much. He takes a lot of walks alone. My daughter cried for three days. I do feel justice has already been served. People who are strangers to each other have come together to support the protection of the innocent, which is what Kitty was. We feel the community’s love and support. Kitty has been honored and that’s most important. That’s why we’re all here.”
Later in the evening, once news broke of the release of the accused, he broke down in a message to Trappalachia:
“It’s Aaron, Kitty’s dad. I guess the girl bonded out 15 min ago. I’m not happy about this. I tried to stay positive today but I have to say it’s pretty disappointing that animal cruelty laws are so lax.”
North Carolina General Statute 14-360-362.3 holds that it’s a misdemeanor to injure, torment, overwork, or kill an animal, or not give it the food and water it needs to survive. Any of those actions—along with poisoning, beating, and maiming an animal—become a felony if they’re done maliciously.
According to animal rights advocate Michael L. Sanders, a paralegal, while cruelty to animals is just as illegal in North Carolina as it is anywhere else in the country, the state’s animal protection laws are less detailed than those in many other states.
“I think the most common forms of abuse and neglect are covered, that’s for sure,” Sanders said. “But as is the case with so many of our laws, in most states anyway—they’re sort of a template of protection laws back when protection laws were first discussed, drafted and enacted… Laws like these are par for the course, but eventually they’re supposed to be reshaped to meet the needs or demands of each individual state.”
Along with directly engaging in cruelty to an animal, it’s also a misdemeanor to instigate or promote animal cruelty, to abandon an animal in one’s care or to maliciously restrain a dog with a chain that’s far bigger than what’s necessary for safety purposes.
Sanders added that there are exceptions to animal cruelty laws. For instance, biomedical research or training involving domesticated animals serves as a provision to protection laws, as well as their use in sport, capturing wildlife for display at an event (as long as it’s returned to the wild), the production of food or livestock, and the destruction of animals to protect people, property, public health or other animals.
Rescuing Animals From Cars
In North Carolina, certain officers and rescue workers are allowed to rescue a pet from a car (even if it’s locked) if there’s reason to believe that the animal is likely to suffer or die from heat, cold, or lack of ventilation. (N.C. Gen. Stat. § 14-363.3.)
Civil Lawsuits to Take Abused Pets From Owners
In addition to criminal penalties for animal cruelty, North Carolina allows anyone who’s concerned about an abused pet’s welfare to file a civil lawsuit to gain control of the animal. After finding that the owner or caretaker has been mistreating or neglecting the animal, the judge may temporarily turn the creature over to the plaintiff (the person who filed the lawsuit) for proper care. That order could become permanent if returning the animal would risk further cruelty. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 19A-1-19A-4.)
Organized Dog Fights Or Cockfighting
It’s a felony in North Carolina to participate in dogfighting in any way, including owning or training the dogs and betting or just watching a dogfight. Involvement in cockfighting and other kinds of animal fights may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the type of participation and whether the defendant had a recent conviction for the same crime. (N.C. Gen. Stat. §§ 14-362, 14-362.1, 14-362.2.)