Two University of California, Berkeley, law students have been accuse of a disgusting crime in which they tore the head off a 14-year-old Helmeted guinea fowl in the Flamingo’s wildlife habitat and then laughed about it. Security cameras reportedly caught Eric Cuellar, 24, and Justin Teixeir, 24, chasing the bird into the trees and then carrying out its body and severed head as some type of hilarious joke.
While witnesses said that the two Berkeley law students were laughing and talkative while chasing and killing the bird, they refused to talk to police once they arrived at the scene. They both face felony charges of conspiracy and willful, malicious torture/killing of wildlife.
As a law professor, I am frankly appalled by the story. These students obviously worked hard to make it into a premier law school and have now thrown away their careers in a spasm of alleged senseless and inhuman violence. We have previously discussed these cases of cruelty to animals and how sentences tend to be relatively low when the victims are animals. However, people who would do such things to animals in my view represent obvious threats to society. It shows a callous disregard for the suffering of a living thing — even an element of enjoyment from the suffering or killing of an innocent creature.
The students should be given the opportunity to defend themselves before the law school takes any action to expel them. However, if they plead guilty or are convicted of these crimes, they obviously will be expelled and it will be difficult for them to become members of the bar if they find entry into law schools after serving any sentence. I have always favored an element of forgiveness for some students who come to law school with criminal records after showing rehabilitation and remorse. I have seen extraordinary people emerge from troubled lives. What is different in this case is that these students committed the alleged crimes after attained tremendous success in their lives. They may still be able to show such rehabilitation but they will meet with lingering skepticism and understandable anger if they are found guilty of this heinous crime.
The only likely defense would be the claim that they were intoxicated — a common problem in Vegas. While I am still concerned that alcohol would unleash a desire to torture an animal, they could claim that they were drunk and just chasing the bird. The beheading could be claimed as a result of their effort to grab the resisting bird. At least such an account (if accepted) would refute the suggested that they wanted to torture or kill the bird.
The defense could be critical not only in terms of a conviction but readmission to law school. The problem with an eventual reentry of the men into a law school is the underlying cruelty reflected in the crime. We cannot make lawyers better people in law school. We cannot make them sympathetic to the suffering of others. All of that is determined before they sit in our classes. However, we can keep out of the profession those people who have taken sadistic pleasure from the suffering of animals or people.
What do you think? Should these men be able to return to law school after serving time for such a crime if convicted?