Criminal Justice

Berkeley Law Student Pleads to Animal Cruelty Misdemeanor in Death of Exotic Vegas Bird

A law student at the University of California-Berkeley pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge Thursday concerning the death of an exotic bird beheaded last year at a Las Vegas casino.

Eric Cuellar, 24, was sentenced to 48 hours of community service, required to pay $150 restitution, fined $200 and ordered to take an alcohol counseling class, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

His lawyer, Richard Schonfeld, said Cuellar was relieved to conclude the case and emphasized that his client had been charged with instigating, rather than actually perpetrating an act of cruelty against the 14-year-old helmeted guinea fowl, reports the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

A law school classmate, Justin Teixeira, faces a felony animal cruelty case over the death of the same bird last October. Surveillance footage reportedly showed the two men chasing the bird, who was known as Turk, into a stand of trees at the Flamingo Hotel. Police said witnesses later saw the two playing with the body of the bird and joking about how it died.

Meanwhile, an investigation continues and two other Berkeley law students could also face charges in the case, based on evidence that they were also involved in the October 12 attack, said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson.

Berkeley’s law dean, Christopher Edley Jr., said in an October public statement that he was “extremely troubled” by the incident but would allow the justice system to complete its work rather than speculating on any possible outcome.

In a second statement circulated in the law school community, the dean said Berkeley’s ability to discipline students for off-campus behavior is limited. However, he noted that the California bar must be notified of moral character issues concerning prospective attorneys and said even an arrest “will trigger heightened scrutiny and a substantial burden of persuasion for the applicant.”

Earlier coverage: “Prosecutors Charge 2 Berkeley Law Students in Bird Beheading; One Faces a Felony Case”

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