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12/31/2002 "Another sports guy gets away with murder"

Just like Alverez's son got away with microwaving his roomates parrot.

Brehm and Bowers, a junior from Robinson, were arrested after officers responded to a report that a gun was fired about 4 a.m. near Taco Cabana, 825 S. Sixth St. Officers were told that someone shot a cat, put it in a sport utility vehicle and drove away, Waco police said.

The cat, which employees dubbed Queso, hung around the restaurant in search of food and kindness, police have said.

Officers stopped Bowers' Chevrolet Tahoe and saw what appeared to be blood on the door and steering wheel, according to police reports. Police found a severed, skinned cat's head in the back of the truck beneath some clothing, along with a pellet gun, a knife and a golf club that appeared to have cat hair on it.

McLennan County jury acquitted former Baylor University baseball player Derek Brehm of misdemeanor animal cruelty charges Tuesday in the shooting and decapitation of the stray cat called Queso.

Brehm flashed a big smile in the courtroom for the first time during the two-day trial and hugged his family and friends after the verdict was read.

The county court-at-law jury deliberated 55 minutes before clearing Brehm in the March 9, 2001, incident in which he and former Baylor outfielder Clint Bowers were arrested in Brehm's vehicle with a severed, skinned cat's head, a pellet gun, a knife and a golf club with blood and cat hair on it.

After Brehm's acquittal, prosecutor Crawford Long dismissed the animal cruelty charge against Bowers.

"The reason I dismissed the charge is that the co-defendant was found not guilty by a jury and our evidence is almost identical on Bowers that was presented on Brehm except for the fact that on some elements, perhaps Brehm's evidence might be a little stronger even," Long said.

Brehm, who since has transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington, testified Tuesday that Bowers shot the cat on the patio of Taco Cabana about 4 a.m. He said he grabbed the cat, which he said was dead, drove a few blocks and he and Bowers both hit it with a 9-iron to make doubly sure it was dead.

After that, Brehm told the jury, he skinned the head and then cut the head off with a knife so he could bleach the skull and keep it like some of his cousins have done to the heads of coyotes, bobcats and deer.

After the players were arrested, the case drew nationwide attention, and animal rights groups and animal lovers wrote to District Attorney John Segrest asking that both men be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Brehm said after his acquittal that he is relieved to have the case behind him. He said he regrets his actions, but insisted that animal rights activists have "blown this all out of proportion," forcing him to go to trial when he was willing to plead guilty for a probated sentence.

The jury of three men and three women was instructed that to convict Brehm, the state had to prove that he either tortured the cat or killed an animal that belonged to someone without that person's consent.

The definition of animal as defined in the penal code and given to the jury Tuesday by Judge Mike Gassaway is a "domesticated living creature and wild living creature previously captured. Animal does not include an uncaptured wild creature or a wild creature whose capture was accomplished by conduct at issue under this section."

"We did our duty. That's all I can tell you," the presiding juror said as she left the courthouse. Two other jurors declined to discuss the verdict.

Brehm's attorney, Russ Hunt, told jurors that the cat was a stray "feral" or wild cat, was not owned by anyone and was not tortured because it was dead after Bowers shot it with the pellet gun.

Prosecutors Long and Melanie Walker alleged that Teresa Jones, the night manager at Taco Cabana, owned the cat or at least had a "greater right to possession" of the cat than Brehm. Jones told jurors Monday that she named the cat Queso because of its fondness for spicy cheese sauce.

She said she fed the cat for several months and had befriended it and another black and white cat that hung around the restaurant that she called Taco.

She testified Monday that the cat was not dead when Brehm snatched it from the patio, saying she heard it "crying" as Brehm took it away.

Hunt said he thinks Brehm was acquitted because the jury realized that the animal cruelty law was not written to pertain to wild animals. If it did, Hunt said it would be "open season" on deer hunters because people could claim that they loved the deer that had been killed and the hunter would be arrested.

"I don't feel that Derek should have ever been prosecuted because the statute obviously didn't fit the circumstances of this case," Hunt said.

Brehm testified Tuesday that he grew up on a farm in San Antonio, where he had lots of pets, including 13 or 14 cats and two dogs.

"I've always loved pets," Brehm said. "I would never shoot anybody's pet and I would never, ever torture an animal. Cats sleep in my bed at home with me all the time."

Brehm said he draws a distinction between domesticated pets and feral cats, which frequently attacked his cats at home and infected them with diseases.

Brehm testified that he performed 50 hours of community service at the Waco Animal Shelter and lost his scholarship as part of his punishment from Baylor after his arrest.

Kathy Robnett, president and co-director of Fuzzy Friends Rescue, an animal shelter in Waco, said she is sickened by the verdict.

"I find it hard to believe that this has happened," she said. "I think the jury has done a terrific disservice to that boy. He needs to be made to make some form of reparation, at least in the form of counseling. It is frightening that this 'boys-will-be-boys' attitude has been so prevalent in this case, especially in light of the research that has been done proving links between animal cruelty and future violence against humans.

"I think it is sending a message loud and clear to come on to Waco and do whatever you want to animals. Come on down," she said.

Bowers, who is from Robinson, is still a student at Baylor, although he is no longer on the baseball team. His attorney, Rod Goble, said Bowers and his family are "extremely happy with the results."

"Based on the jury's decision today, I think the action taken by the district attorney's office was appropriate and the proper thing to do," Goble said of the dismissal of charges against Bowers.

Long said he presented the best case he could to the jury.

"That was everything we had. They heard the evidence, they heard our arguments and they decided that, under the evidence, the defendant was not guilty," Long said. "There wasn't anything else we could do. It was their decision to make and they made it. We accept the jury's decision."



(More than just a stray)

I look on the world today
from such a better place.
Angels folded wings around me
and now I'm home and safe.

I was one of God's creations
innocent and small
for you to take my life away
made no sense at all.

They said it was not cruelty,
I was just a stray that's all.
But I found my place on earth.
You had no right to make that call.

I pray each day for you,
the judge and jury too,
as Jesus said upon the cross;
you know not what you do.

To the thousands who raised a voice
in memory of me,
Keep up the fight
the world will change.
Let Queso be.

More than just a stray.

by CeCelia Brownell


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