An Urbana man found guilty of cruelty to animals was sentenced Friday to serve 60 days in jail with 55 days suspended, and to pay a $400 fine plus court costs for beating a cat, later put down by Urbana police.
Darius Bledsoe, 69, was ordered to spend 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. five consecutive days in an Urbana Police Division holding cell beginning Jan. 8. He is to be released for a lunch break each day. He also was ordered to give 80 hours of community service.
Judge Gil S. Weithman, Champaign County Municipal Court, said he did not believe it was appropriate to send Bledsoe to jail due to his age and the fact that this is his first offense. The charge of cruelty to animals is a second-degree misdemeanor that carries a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $750 fine.
Defense attorney Ryan Reed requested that Bledsoe be sentenced to community service at an animal shelter, stating that his client had spent many years as an educator and that this case has caused him grief and embarrassment. Rhiannon Brown, whose daughter owned the cat, said this would be inappropriate and the judge agreed.
Bledsoe is to receive a mental health evaluation and submit to alcohol and drug screenings for the duration of his time on community control.
“I am an animal lover and a pet lover, and I respectfully regret I caused the death of an animal,” Bledsoe said in a statement before the court.
Animal abuse report
Urbana police were dispatched to Bledsoe’s residence on July 25 in reference to a man beating a cat to death with a tree limb. While talking with police, Bledsoe stated he assumed the animal he saw on his porch was a raccoon with distemper or rabies and picked up a broom handle and began striking the animal. He stated he then picked the animal up and carried it into his back yard and flung it over his fence behind his shed.
Officers asked Bledsoe if he could tell what kind of animal it was once he was carrying it and he stated he was pretty sure it was a raccoon. Officers also asked if a live trap on his porch was for raccoons, to which Bledsoe replied he had it because neighborhood cats kept tearing up the carpet on his porch.
Bledsoe told police he was not sure if the animal was dead and allowed officers to walk through his yard to the back portion of the property. Officers found a cat on its side under a pickup truck just north of Bledsoe’s property.
After the owner of the truck moved the vehicle, police observed the cat was a domesticated house cat that had injuries to its head and neck area. When officers tried to touch the cat, it tried to get up and walk away, but could not stand without falling.
Officers asked Bledsoe why he thought the cat was a raccoon, to which he responded it looked like a raccoon and added that he was protecting himself because the animal was on his property. He also stated the cat did not appear aggressive but remained there instead of running away as if it was diseased.
An officer used a handgun to put the injured cat down.
Brown, a West Water Street resident, went outside upon hearing the gunshot and approached officers to ask if everything was all right. After police explained what happened with the cat, Brown identified the cat as her daughter’s cat, Tate.
The resident told police the cat had gotten out of their house four days prior but was usually an indoor cat and did not have distemper or rabies.
Police also spoke with a person who witnessed Bledsoe attack the cat. The witness stated Bledsoe walked from his house with an object described as bigger than a broom handle. The witness said Bledsoe hit the cat with the object at least 12 times.
Bledsoe then allegedly picked the cat up by its leg and began to carry it to his back yard and the witness asked if the animal was a cat. Bledsoe reportedly replied that it was a raccoon and then said it was a bunny rabbit in what the witness described as a sarcastic tone.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304