Order In The Court: Animals On Trial

A rooster who made a deal with the Devil, termites-destroyers, killer-pigs, criminally inclined mice… History knows quite a few famous criminal prosecutions where the defendants — unbeknownst to them — happened to be monkeys, rodents, pigs, birds and even insects.
monkeyIn 1877, in New York, certain Mary O’Shea’s finger was bitten by an organ grinder’s  monkey. Mary demanded compensation, but the judge denied her request, arguing that he cannot prosecute a monkey. Furious, Mary stormed out of the courtroom.

Dressed in a scarlet coat and velvet cap, the defendant was delighted with the decision of the court. She wrapped her tail around the gas lamp on a judge’s table and tried to shake his hand. The entry in the court documents stated: “Name: Jimmy Dill. Occupation: Monkey. Status: acquitted.

Pep and Lady

Pep and Lady

Labrador retriever named Pep, who lived in Pike County, Pennsylvania, had the misfortune to be a neighbor of Governor Pinchot. One hot summer day in 1924, this friendly dog, overcome by a feat of temporary insanity, killed the Mrs. Pinchot’s favorite cat. The Governor was furious and insisted on an immediate trial. The defense’s argument that the crime was committed in a heat of passion did not save Pep from punishment.

The dog was sentenced to life imprisonment and sent to Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. Baffled, jailers could not decide whether to assign a canine convict a prison number but, in the end, tradition won. Pep became number  z/S2559. In prison, Pep was surrounded by universal love, and allowed to change the inmates at will. At the time, the prisoners were erecting a new prison building in Greyterforde, Pennsylvania. Every morning, convict Pep climbed the prison bus, when his number was called. Pep was transferred to nearby Graterford Penitentiary in 1929.

In 1930, after six human (ie, forty-two dog) years of imprisonment “Pep the cat-murdering dog” died peacefully of old age.

Similar fate befell Lady, a beagle who belonged to the captain of the prison’s guards. She posed for the second picture in 1957.


Perhaps the most famous trial with the animal on the dock was held in Basel in 1474. A rooster was accused for the crime of laying an egg without yolk. In those days, it was a common knowledge that this kind of eggs could be laid by witches possessed by Satan, and only deadly winged serpents could hatch from them.

The accused rooster was as good as dead. His defense lawyer did not dare to claim that his client was innocent. He built his defense on a premise that cock was not in cahoots with the Devil. No way. The egg was an accident, and the deed was entirely without malice. After a lengthy trial, overzealous judge dismissed defense’s argument and concluded that cock was, indeed, possessed by the Devil. Both the rooster and the egg were burned to the delight of a large crowd of spectators.mice

In 1519, in the town of Stelvio, Italy, field mice were accused in spoiling crops by digging holes in the ground. Mice were provided a defense lawyer, His name was Hans Grinebner. The lawyer tried to justify his clients’ behavior, arguing that mice led a tough and miserable life of deprivation and suffering. Grinebner further argued that his clients were a useful members of society, eating insects and enriching the soil. Prosecutor Schwartz Mining insisted that the damage done by mice prevented farmers from paying rent and taxes. The judge, however, has shown leniency. He ruled to exile the rodents, ensuring their safety and providing  two-week reprieve to mice “who are either too young or have young children of their own.”0003-002-Svinja-s-porosjatami

Among the animals accused in criminal behavior, pigs occupied a special place. In the Middle Ages, left unattended, pigs often attacked small children. After the arrest, they were commonly placed in solitary confinement, registered as “pigs belonging to so-and-so” and then publicly hanged in compliance with all formalities proscribed by the law.pigs

Annals of animal trials mention a number of famous pig-criminals. One of the most unusual cases was heard in Savigny, France, in 1457. A sow and her six piglets were accused in “willfully and maliciously” killing a five year old boy, Jean Martin. After a speedy trial, the perp sow was convicted and hung by her hind legs.

But were the piglets just as guilty? After the saw was executed, the court ordered the piglet’s owner, Jean Baillie, to take them into temporary custody to await for the second hearing. But Baillie refused to vouch for the piglets, since he doubted that, in the future, the sextet of oinking youngsters would behave like law-abiding animals. Three weeks later, the six little piglets appeared in court for a hearing. Taking into account their young age and lack of convincing evidence of their guilt, the court exercised leniency. The piglets were placed into the care of a local nobleman, while their owner, Monsieur Baillie, was relieved of all financial responsibility. Termity_01

At the beginning of the XVIII century, the monks of a Franciscan monastery in Brazil grew desperate: termites devoured not only food and furniture, but even the walls of the monastery. Monks appealed to the bishop, asking to exterminate the vicious termites. A community court was held. Since defendants defiantly, and for obvious reasons, did not appear in court, they were appointed a defense attorney.termite

In his passionate opening statement the lawyer for the defense stated that all of God’s creatures deserve their God intended sustenance. Further, he extolled a remarkable zeal of termites, which, in his opinion, was far superior to the zeal of the monks. In addition, he pointed out that termites have lived on this earth long before the arrival of the monks.

The proceedings were lengthy and full of complex legal arguments and quotations from the Fathers of the Church. In the end, it was decided that termites should be allocated the land of their own. The judge’s decision was read aloud in front of a termite mound. According to the monastic document dated in the Year of Our Lord 1713, termites were removed from their mounds and relocated to a new place.

Who said there is no justice in the world?!



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