Former animal rescue president gets 15 months in jail; post an appeal bond
Judge Peter McShane gave Heidi Lueders a five-year suspended sentence after 15 months, followed by five years probation. McShane first heard from both parties, including the accused. Lueders blamed her tearful actions on a heroin addiction that took over her life.
“People ask me privately what happened. I tell them I don’t remember because I used such a large amount of drugs on a daily basis,” Lueders said. “I’m sorry for the destruction of Celly’s house. I’m sorry for everything that happened and I fully accept responsibility.”
In November 2018, Fairfield police found the house Lueders rented from Celly Roberts was filled with trash, feces and drug paraphernalia, as well as the skeletons of five dogs locked in cages. Lueders was arrested and charged with five counts of animal cruelty and criminal damage to property. She was accused of depriving the dogs of food and water, leading to their death. Lueders was tried before McShane in February after opting for a bench trial over a jury trial. McShane found Lueders not guilty of animal cruelty at trial, but considered the dogs’ deaths in sentencing. He allowed the court-appointed animal advocate to address the court on Wednesday.
“The state may not have proven that Ms. Lueders intentionally and maliciously killed these dogs, but she is irrefutably guilty of gross and unforgivable negligence,” said Ken Bernhard of law firm Cohen and Wolf. “Your honor, I ask the court not to ignore these irrefutable facts in sentencing Ms. Lueders for her crime of destruction of property. The events are explicitly linked and the sentencing must reflect that connection.”
“Heidi Lueders must undoubtedly be punished for her actions and the crime committed here,” added assistant prosecutor Felicia Valentino.
Defense attorney Rob Serafinowicz argued that Lueders should receive probation and drug treatment.
“Ms. Lueders is appearing in court with no criminal record. Ms. Lueders led a dog rescue, and Ms. Lueders has helped and rescued many dogs during this time,” Serafinowicz said. “It’s pretty well documented that Ms. Lueders’ problems arose when she developed her very, very, very serious drug problems.”
Before passing sentence, McShane addressed Roberts, saying, “I assure you, Mrs. Roberts, your voice has been heard. I want you to know that your statement was incredibly moving.” He also said what was done to his house was not damage, but “destruction” and “devastation”.
McShane then turned to the defense and said that in determining an appropriate sentence, he considered not only the crime Lueders was convicted of, but his behavior after the verdict. McShane mentioned videos that Lueders posted on social media that night.
“I saw her bragging about being found innocent. I thought I was pretty clear that she wasn’t found innocent. She was found not guilty,” McShane said. “There was no acceptance of responsibility at this time, a time when she was on social media telling the world about the trial. Not once did she offer an apology or sympathy towards Ms. Roberts.”
The judge also said the dogs’ deaths impacted his decision to sentence Lueders to prison.
“These dogs that died were left to rot, were left to rot, were left to diminish in their cages that an animal should be able to find some solace in. It’s awful,” McShane said.
After court, Bernhard told News 12, “I’m glad Judge McShane did what he did. I think the sentence was very appropriate. 15 months is a long time in prison. She will have time to think about it, and most It is important for the public to witness the fact that animal abuse is not acceptable.”
Serafinowicz called the sentence “absolutely ridiculous” and said he would appeal his conviction. The judge granted his appeal bond request, setting it at $350,000. Serafinowicz said Lueders would post it this afternoon. For now, she remains on bail subject to the same release conditions as before. Only if and when that appeal is denied will she begin serving her sentence.