NEWS- Paw-tition: Crowds expected for cat-shooting trial
Murder, rape, kidnapping– these are the types of felony crimes that generally draw big crowds to a courthouse. But on Tuesday morning, June 20, the benches in Albemarle County District Court may be packed for an unusually high profile misdemeanor charge. That's trial day for George Seymour, the man accused of shooting a pet cat in an upscale subdivision.
"We want to send a signal that animal abuse should be taken seriously in this community," says Susanne Kogut, executive director of the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, who plans to join a contingent of animal rights activists in the courthouse. While exact courtroom turnout is uncertain, Kogut says a petition hosted at the SPCA website, www.caspca.org, to support the strengthening of animal cruelty laws has garnered at least 700 signatures in less than three weeks, suggesting feelings about the incident are running high.
Klaus and Vanessa Wintersteiger are also hoping a judge will hand down a stiff sentence for Seymour, who allegedly shot their children's pet cat Carmen on April 24.
As detailed in the Hook's May 18 cover story, "Claws and Effect: Bentivar shooting sparks outrage," the Wintersteigers returned home from an evening out to discover Carmen bleeding from a bullet hole in her neck. They took her to the emergency vet clinic where X-rays revealed extensive damage to Carmen's front leg and shoulder. Facing expensive surgery with an uncertain outcome– limb amputation was required– the Wintersteigers euthanized Carmen. At the veterinarian's urging, they contacted police.
By the afternoon of April 25, Albemarle police had made an arrest. To the Wintersteiger's horror, the admitted shooter was neighbor and businessman George Seymour, according to Klaus Wintersteiger and Seymour's own lawyer.
The lawyer, Benjamin Dick, who did not return calls for this story, has previously told the Hook that his client believed Carmen was one of the stray cats he'd allegedly seen scratching the cars in his driveway. Since Seymour owns a car dealership– the Import Car Store at the corner of Hydraulic Road and Emmet Street– the cats were causing problems for his business, Dick explained. Seymour never would have shot someone's pet, he said, and Carmen was without a collar– something the Wintersteigers admit.
The Wintersteigers, however, say Seymour never approached them to see if the cat belonged to them. And they find it difficult to believe that Seymour, who has lived next door since 1998, wouldn't have seen their two children, seven-year-old Isabella and 9-year-old Nicholas, frequently playing with Carmen outside.
As for discharging a gun in a residential neighborhood, that's no crime here, as both Dick and Commonwealth's Attorney Jim Camblos say it is legal in certain "rural" areas in Albemarle, even in the Bentivar subdivision. Police have not said what trajectory the bullet entered and exited the cat's body, but even a small-caliber handgun bullet can travel about a mile. That's well beyond the less than a hundred yards separating many of the Bentivar houses, which are well within shooting range of another.
Since Carmen's death, two of Seymour's Bentivar neighbors say they have heard additional gunshots coming from the area around the Seymour home. Another neighbor says that no stray cats have even been seen in Bentivar. Citing fear of reprisal, the neighbors requested anonymity in this article. Seymour has not returned any of the Hook's calls.
For Carmen's shooting, Seymour is charged with malicious wounding of an animal, a class one misdemeanor. If convicted, he faces up to one year behind bars and a fine of up to $2,500.
Carmen, pictured with Isabella Wintersteiger, "never scratched and never bit," says Klaus Wintersteiger.PHOTO COURTESY THE WINTERSTEIGERS