Diane Eldrup told a Lake County animal control officer there were no dogs at the Muddy Paws Dog Rescue shelter a month before dozens of dead animals were found there, a prosecutor said Wednesday.
Eldrup, 48, is on trial in Lake County circuit court for animal torture and aggravated cruelty to animals for allegedly allowing 30 dogs, three birds and an opossum to starve to death while in her care.
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Assistant State's Attorney Michael Mermel said in his opening statement an animal control officer called Eldrup on Nov. 16, 2010 to say she was headed to the Deer Park facility to investigate a complaint.
Eldrup met the officer outside the kennel and attached living area and refused to allow the officer inside, then claimed no dogs were sheltered there and she planned to move out in six weeks, Mermel said.
A month later, Eldrup's estranged husband took a court order and Kildeer police to the former kennel on the 24000 block of Rand Road to retrieve some of his property. While there, they discovered the dead animals, most locked in cages containing empty food and water dishes, Mermel said.
"Neither food or water was made available to them," he said. "She left them to die a slow and agonizing death."
The animals found were in "various stages of decay," Mermel said, and he told the seven men and five women on the jury that veterinarians would testify the animals had been left unfed for extended periods of time.
Defense attorney John Curnyn told the jurors prosecutors would not be able to prove his client had the necessary intent to harm the animals required by the law to convict her.
"She was not motivated by an intent to increase their suffering," he said in his opening statement. "She was not motivated by an intent to see them die."
Curnyn attempted to make reference to the strain of Eldrup's divorce and her worsening financial situation during his opening statement, but was cut off repeatedly by Mermel's objections.
Cindy Williams, a county animal control officer, narrated a videotape of the kennel showing the conditions under which the animals died.
Two dogs were found locked into plastic carriers normally used to transport animals for short periods of time, Williams said, and those carriers were stacked on top of each other in a closet.
There was tons of animal waste found strewn throughout the property, Williams said, and many animals were in a deep state of decomposition when they were found.
A member of the audience apparently became ill while the videotape was played in court.
The woman said "I'm going to throw up" and rushed from the courtroom, and Curnyn moved for a mistrial.
"That was improper, your honor, and they (the jurors) all saw it," he said. "I am asking for a mistrial, because my client cannot get a fair trial."
Circuit Judge James Booras denied the request, saying the woman's reaction to the tape was "not the fault of the state and not the fault of the court."
He did, however, bar that woman from returning to the courtroom and warned other spectators he would not tolerate further reactions to the evidence.
The videotape also showed unopened bags and cans of dog food and bottled water stacked in various locations on the property.
If convicted, Eldrup faces up to five years in prison but would also be eligible for probation.