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Member of Jury Shares Thoughts on Natural Bridge Zoo Trials

Claire Sigler
The Rockbridge County Courthouse where the trial took place.

On Feb. 26, trials began for the Natural Bridge Zoo at Circut Court in the Lexington Courthouse. The trial was to determine if the animals seized from the zoo were beyond a reasonable doubt suffering neglect, that was an immediate threat to their health and safety.  

A member from the jury, Angela Bowles, talks about her first time being on a jury.

“It was my first time going through the jury selection process because I only recently registered to vote and that is how they do jury summonses,” said Bowles. 

During the juror selection process, each lawyer was allowed to ask questions such as: ‘How much have you read in the newspaper? Did anyone have any preconceived notions about zoos in general, and if anyone is a member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).’

“There are probably about 35 other people that were summoned. We were then asked a series of questions by the judge that were instant disqualifiers. Those questions were very basic like do you speak English,” said Bowles. 

Once the jury was selected, it took five days to go through every witness and statements. 

“The state attorney’s case took the longest because its job was to prove the burden of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That took all of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday then part of Friday,” said Bowles.

 Dr. Ernesto Dominguez was a major witness during the trial.

 “He was the lead veterinarian that executed the search warrant. He was the one who went through every single animal on the property and took note even the ones who were not seized,” said Bowles.

The jury was required to give a verdict for each specific animal and if they were confiscated, where they needed to go. 

“The decision had to be unanimous. We were able to reach unanimous decisions on each of the animals but it took us ten and a half hours,” said Bowles.

After they heard the witnesses, they were adjourned into the jury room to talk about if the 100 animals seized were neglected. The jury then discussed their notes and looked over the pictures to refresh their memories.

“Because some of the animals we weren’t very familiar with, we were handed 100 verdict forms that had the animal’s species and sex on it. We went over them and we paired that form with notes from Dr. Dominguez along with photographs that correlated with that specific animal that had been entered into evidence,” said Bowles.

Since the jury had to come to a unanimous decision, that made it a difficult choice.

“There were others that we were split and we had to talk them through. And there were certain qualifiers that we used that we felt were obvious like did they have clean environments and access to fresh water.  And if the answers to those were no it was a lot easier to decide on,” said Bowles.

The jury then shared how they stayed unbiased. 

“We gave both sides an equal chance for every animal regardless of how we were feeling that they were cared for,” said Bowles.  

Bowles gives her final thoughts about the trial.

“I thought both sides presented the case the best they could given the information that they had at that time,” said Bowles.

As a result of this trial, 71 animals will go into state custody and 29 will be returned to the zoo. The Natural Bridge Zoo has appealed the verdict. Another hearing will be held in June.

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About the Contributors
Olivia Hickman
Olivia Hickman, Reporter
Sophomore Olivia Hickman is a first year reporter for the Prowler. She joined journalism because she enjoyed Mrs. Holton's English class last year. When she is not at school, Hickman enjoys riding her horse, Will, and going to competitions with him. Hickman’s most recent accomplishment with Will was competing at the United States Pony Club National Championships in Tryon, North Carolina, where her team finished first.  She also loves to read, bake, and hike. Hickman also has a passion for traveling. She enjoys exploring new places and learning about different cultures. She especially enjoys stamping new food.  

Claire Sigler
Claire Sigler, Reporter
Claire Sigler is a sophomore at Rockbridge County High School. This is her first year as a Prowler reporter and she is ecstatic to be involved with the school's newspaper. In her free time, Sigler enjoys drinking too much iced coffee, participating in intense Just Dance battles, and photographing anything and everything. Claire Sigler spends most of her time as a senior company member at the Rockbridge Ballet and partakes in many styles of dance including, pointe, ballet, tap, jazz, modern, and hip hop. After highschool, she plans on moving to Finland to become a professional sleeper where she will get to write reviews about the comfort of mattresses. 

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