The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

Local News

November 16, 2011

Evaluation to be given in animal cruelty case

— A Limestone County judge has ordered a competency hearing for an Elkmont woman convicted of animal cruelty in the deaths of 43 dogs at her home last year.

Nan Johnson, 64, of 25779 Putman Circle, was arrested April 2, 2010, on 43 counts of cruelty to animals and later convicted on two of the counts. However, her attorney appealed the sentence on the grounds she was mentally ill at the time of the crimes.

On Monday, a Limestone County Circuit Judge granted a motion by Johnson’s attorney for a Nov. 30 competency hearing.

Shocking discovery

Limestone County Sheriff’s investigators found 43 dead dogs and 29 malnourished dogs at her home on April 2, 2010. Of the 43 dogs that perished, one was found dead in its kennel and the other 42 were wrapped in plastic and stored in three freezers, one of which also contained frozen meat and vegetables.

Investigators believe the dogs died of starvation.  She told investigators she froze the dead dogs because someone was coming to help her properly bury them but had not yet done so.

A call from a concerned citizen prompted officers to check on the animals.

Johnson was struggling

Johnson’s estranged husband and a longtime acquaintance from Huntsville said Johnson’s health and mental state appeared to be deteriorating in the months leading up to the deaths of the dogs. The acquaintance shared several emails with The News Courier in which Johnson states she believes the devil is watching her and causing problems in her life. Her husband, who had left the home a few weeks before the dogs were found dead, told The News Courier his wife had seen a doctor but had refused to return despite his requests. Both the husband and the acquaintance said they did not realize the extent of Johnson’s problems and believed she was still able to care for her dogs.

Last September, District Judge Jeanne Anderson had ordered Johnson to serve a year in jail, pay a $1,000 fine and serve two years on probation. She also banned Johnson from keeping pets and ordered her to remain on medication.

Her attorney, Harlan Mitchell of Athens, appealed the sentence, arguing mental illness left Johnson unable to understand her actions. He also filed a motion for mental evaluation and requested a competency hearing.  Johnson remained free after posting a $32,500 bail.

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