Mercy killing claimed in case of baby owls : Stepmom says ‘boys did not torture them’


April 14, 2011 5:33 AM

The stepmother of one of the 17-year-old boys accused of taking the lives of baby owls in Lompoc last week said Wednesday it was a mercy killing — a contention disputed by a neighbor who witnessed the incident.

In an interview with the News-Press, Carla Jacobsen, co-owner of Jacobsen Hay & Feed in Santa Ynez and stepmother to Hunter Jacobsen — one of the boys involved — said the teenagers told a state Fish & Game warden investigating the matter that quick blows from a two-by-four were intended to end the suffering of two injured birds found in some hay bales.

As first reported by the News-Press, the teenagers were delivering hay to Sheltering Oak Sanctuary for rescued animals April 6 when they saw the owls among the bales.

Mrs. Jacobsen, 42, said the boys were not comfortable handling the birds and decided killing them was more compassionate than a slow, painful death.

“The boys did not torture them,” Mrs. Jacobsen said.

The News-Press contacted Mrs. Jacobsen’s stepson, but he declined comment. Authorities will not confirm the name of the other boy.

Information obtained by the News-Press indicates both are avid hunters.

Lt. James Solis of state Fish & Game told the News-Press he couldn’t disclose what the boys told him or whether he thought this was a mercy killing.

“I didn’t see any evidence that this was a mercy killing,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mercy killing.”

After his interview with the boys, Lt. Solis sent a formal request for a citation to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Killing a nongame bird is a state misdemeanor.

Jill Anderson, 35, director and co-founder of the sanctuary, said she called Fish & Game last week after finding the birds’ remains and owl feathers and blood on a two-by-four.

Ms. Anderson told the News-Press Wednesday that she doesn’t doubt Mrs. Jacobsen believes the mercy killing explanation.

But that’s not what Ms. Anderson’s neighbors Tony and Thea DiNuzzo said they saw through their living room window that fateful day.

Mrs. DiNuzzo told the News-Press Wednesday she saw the boys throw rocks at the owls and hit them repeatedly with the two-by-four.

“This was not a mercy killing, not in the least,” she said. “If this was a mercy killing, why would they take so long and do it with such gusto?”

Mrs. Jacobsen said the boys didn’t know the owls were squashed in the hay until they arrived at the sanctuary.

The day of the incident, the boys told Michael Anderson, Ms. Anderson’s father, who came to pick up the hay to feed the sanctuary’s horses, that the owls were there when they arrived.

“They shouldn’t have lied,” Mrs. Jacobsen said. “They weren’t being malicious or mean. They panicked.”

“They learned a huge lesson,” she added, noting that the boys should have called someone for help. “They didn’t know they were at an animal rescue ranch.”

Return to Freedom American Wild Horse Sanctuary, where Ms. Anderson works, contracted with Jacobsen Hay & Feed to deliver the hay to the site. Ms. Anderson said Mrs. Jacobsen called Return to Freedom and apologized to her boss, Neda DeMayo, but didn’t explain it was a mercy killing.

Mrs. Jacobsen said the boys are willing to donate work to Sheltering Oak Sanctuary and Animal Rescue Team Inc., a Santa Barbara County nonprofit, to atone for the owls’ deaths.

“They’re willing to pay the price” and are remorseful, Mrs. Jacobsen said. “They haven’t slept in a week.”

She noted the boys have worked with animals, including cattle, and are 4-H members.

Mrs. Jacobsen said her company had never come across harmed owls in hay before this and hasn’t had a policy. Since the owls’ deaths, she said, she is keeping the phone number for Animal Rescue Team Inc. in her hay trucks, so her employees can call the nonprofit if they see injured animals.

Since the incident, Animal Rescue Team Inc. has posted an online petition, signed by 1,000 people, in support of stricter laws on animal cruelty for minors.

Mrs. Jacobsen said she is concerned about that petition’s effects on the boys as well as social media chatter criticizing them.

In response, Ms. Anderson said, “Nobody is trying to incite a lynch mob.”

She added: “I would love to sit down with the boys and give them an opportunity to explain.”

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