Apr 06, 2012 News
Los Angeles, California – A jury in Los Angeles on Wednesday acquitted a Florida animal broker of 10 counts of animal cruelty in a case involving 15 monkeys who died after being shuttled around the world on international flights.
A spokesman for the city attorney’s office said the jurors took less than an hour to reach the verdicts acquitting Robert Matson Conyers of all charges.
The nearly two-week trial focused on a disastrous odyssey around the world as the monkeys destined for a Bangkok breeding centre were refused transit at several points, including China.
Conyers’ attorney, John Murray, argued that the broker was not responsible for what happened while the monkeys were being ferried around the world. They were well fed and cared for while in Conyers’ control, Murray said.
The monkeys suffered from neglect, starvation and hypothermia during the ordeal, and 15 of the 25 originally shipped from Guyana eventually died.
Prosecution and defence lawyers described a scenario in which everything that could go wrong did. The monkeys wound up on a circuitous seven-day trip across thousands of miles with stops in Miami and China, and twice in Los Angeles.
Julia MacKenzie, the West Coast coordinator for the advocacy group, Stop Animal Cruelty Now (SAEN), sat through the trial. She said, she interviewed jurors after the verdict and they said Conyers was not to blame for what happened.
“They felt he tried to take care of them when he had them, and it wasn’t his fault,” she said.
Conyers took the stand in his own defence, MacKenzie said. He testified that he had adequately fed and watered the monkeys when he had them in his control in Miami between flights.
One airline refused to fly the animals because of poor weather, and Chinese authorities turned them back for improper documentation. Also, it was Chinese New Year when the monkeys arrived, and, with everyone on vacation, they languished on a tarmac for 39 hours.
The prosecutor and defence attorney did not respond to repeated calls from The Associated Press following the verdicts.
Frank Mateljan of the city attorney’s office said: “The jury has rendered their opinion and certainly we’ll accept it. We take the tough cases when we feel they warrant criminal charges.”
A Guyanese exporter, Akhtar Hussain, was charged with Conyers in connection with the deaths of the primates. However, he did not attend the trial and is believed to be in Guyana.
Last week, Guyana’s Wildlife Management Division (WMD) came out in defence of Hussain saying, that foreign new articles of the trial contained several erroneous statements, including the suggestion that the export of monkeys from Guyana is illegal.
WMD said that the article, published in a US paper and carried in the local media, “is very cleverly crafted in that many details were omitted and the actual information included seems designed to mislead and to cast a very negative light on the wildlife trade”.
The WMD statement noted that Guyana is listed as a source country of monkeys immediately following the sentence that notes that the unregulated and illegal trade of monkeys to the US is on the increase.
“This seems to suggest that export of monkeys from Guyana is illegal. Guyana has established quotas for four species of primates and small numbers of these species are exported to the US each year.”
“While the articles by sections of the media are bad publicity, under the circumstances, it would appear as though Mr. Hussain had little control over the matter. Unless further information is provided to prove otherwise, Mr. Hussain must be given the benefit of the doubt,” WMD said in concluding its statement.
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