Augusta County woman convicted of killing, dumping 6 puppies

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AUGUSTA COUNTY, Va. (WHSV) — UPDATE (Sept. 24):

An Augusta County woman was convicted in court on Tuesday of shooting and killing a litter of puppies and then dumping them over an embankment just before Christmas last year.

Betsy Hemp of Middlebrook was found guilty of six misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty on Sept. 24. She also pleaded guilty to six charges of illegal dumping in connection with her disposal of the puppies' bodies.

According to Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin, she admitted to killing the dogs and then dumping their remains over an embankment on the side of Troxel Gap Road between Middlebrook and Craigsville.

Investigators said she had advertised them for sale and contacted the SPCA and the Shenandoah Valley Regional Animal Services Center. The SPCA was full and unable to take the dogs and since they belonged to her son, SVASC would not take them without his permission.

According to the testimony in court, after hearing from the SVASC, Hemp said she was frustrated and angry. At that point, she took the puppies and shot them.

The defense argued that even though she killed the puppies, it did not meet the threshold for a felony. Her lawyer, Dana Cormier, argued the commonwealth had not presented any evidence that Hemp had not intended to cause pain and she wanted them to die as quickly as possible.

The defense also called a veterinarian to the stand, who said it was impossible to tell by the report or photos presented as evidence how long the puppies were conscious or if they felt any pain. She said it also was impossible to tell how long it took them to die.

After considering all the evidence, the judge said he found Hemp's actions to be unnecessary and she could have received consent from her son to take them to a shelter.

He said it was sickening to him, but he did not believe the commonwealth had proved adequately that she intended to torture or cause inhumane pain. Instead of the felony she was charged with, Hemp was convicted on six misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty.

"It's not necessarily as straightforward as some people in the public may expect it to be," Tim Martin, Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney said. "We have a great deal of respect for his ultimate decision."

Cormier agreed that it was a difficult case, and said he appreciated the time the judge took to make his decision.

"Unfortunately she got frustrated, she made a bad choice," Cormier said. "But I think it's important that she be convicted for what she actually did."

Hemp will be back in court on Oct. 10 for sentencing. She also pleaded guilty to six misdemeanor counts of illegal dumping.

She remained free on bond leading up to her trial, but had to find a home for the other nine dogs on her property as a condition of the bond. She remains free on bond before her sentencing under the same conditions.

Earlier this year, Virginia lawmakers passed a bill toughening animal cruelty laws in the commonwealth, lowering the threshold for a felony to "cruelly or unnecessarily beating, maiming, mutilating, or killing a dog or cat." The law went into effect on July 1.

However, while that law lowered the threshold for animal cruelty to be charged as a felony in Virginia, it does not mean all animal cruelty convictions will be felonies.

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UPDATE (May 28):

Betsy Hemp, the woman accused of shooting and killing a litter of puppies and then dumping them over an embankment in Augusta County, was indicted on six counts of animal cruelty on Tuesday.

Hemp, who allegedly shot six puppies after advertising them for sale and contacting the SPCA just before Christmas, is not allowed to have contact with any animals until after her case has been resolved and had to find other homes for other dogs on her property.

According to Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin, she admitted to killing the dogs and then dumping their remains over an embankment on the side of Troxel Gap Road between Middlebrook and Craigsville.

Investigators determined the dogs were between four and six months old when they were killed in the week before Christmas.

A grand jury on May 28 certified six charges of felony animal cruelty and six misdemeanor counts of illegal dumping against Hemp, according to the Commonwealth's Attorney's office.

Court records show she is scheduled for a trial in September. Each charge of animal cruelty brings the possibility of five years in prison if she is convicted.

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UPDATE (May 7):

Betsy Hemp, the Augusta County woman accused of killing a litter of puppies just before Christmas last year, had a preliminary hearing in Augusta County General District Court Tuesday afternoon.

Hemp was arrested in December for allegedly shooting and killing six puppies and then dumping them over a steep embankment off a back road.

Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney Tim Martin said her case was certified, meaning probable cause was found.

He said the next step is to send her case to the grand jury, who will decide whether to indict her on charges of animal cruelty.

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Betsy Hemp appeared in Augusta County General District Court on Tuesday. She is facing animal cruelty charges after allegedly killing six puppies in December.

On Tuesday, the Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney filed a motion. They argued that Hemp should not be allowed to have any contact with companion animals during her trial process.

Tim Martin, Augusta County Commonwealth's Attorney, argued Hemp had admitted to killing the dogs, even after she had allegedly advertised them for sale and contacted the SPCA.

The judge agreed, saying that Hemp was not allowed to have contact with any animals until after the matter had been resolved. He gave Hemp 24 hours to find a new home for the nine dogs currently on her property.

Hemp is accused of shooting and killing six puppies and then dumping their remains over an embankment on the side of Troxel Gap Road between Middlebrook and Craigsville.

Another preliminary hearing date has been set for April 9. Hemp remains free on a $2,500 bond.

WHSV attempted to speak with Hemp, but she declined comment.