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Felony charges dismissed in case of UGA students accused of beating opossum to death


Leighton Coleman Clements
Luke Colter Law

By Joe Johnson

Felony animal cruelty charges have been dismissed against a University of Georgia of student who was arrested two years go for beating an opossum to death with a stick on UGA property.

An indictment had alleged that Leighton Coleman Clements and Luke Colter Law had seriously disfigured the opossum's head and eye by beating it with a stick, and for inflicting severe pain on the animal.

Defense attorney Kim Stephens said that his client negotiated with the Western Judicial Circuit District Attorney's office to have the felony charges dismissed in return for Clements pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor.

“We filed a demurrer challenging the Indictment in Mr. Clements’ case arguing that Mr. Clements could admit to all of the factual allegations contained in the Indictment and still not be guilty of any crime in Georgia,” Stephens said. “Specifically, counts 1 - 3 of the Indictment were directly related to the taking or killing of the opossum which was permissible on the date it occurred since Mr. Clements’ taking or killing of the opossum occurred during legal opossum hunting season as set by Georgia law at the time. In the very next legislative term, the legislature actually extended opossum hunting season to 365 days per year, every day, but even at the time of Mr. Clements’ actions he could legally take the opossum involved in this case.

Another charge in the indictment, of hunting with an illegal weapon, was dismissed.

“We argued on behalf of Mr. Clements that the "weapon" section of the statute, though ambiguous, applied to items such as guns and crossbows that could shoot a projectile and was never intended to apply to sticks, knives, bare hands, or other items that might be used to "take" or kill an opossum without shooting a projectile, ”Stephens said.

In accordance with the plea deal, he said, Clements was sentenced to six months on probation, to be terminated upon paying a fine.

“My office, as allowed by Georgia law, obtained an order sealing and restricting the criminal records in the case since all charges were dismissed.” Stephens saId.

That law states: “The court shall hear evidence and shall grant an order restricting such criminal history record information if it determines that the harm otherwise resulting to the individual clearly outweighs the public's interest in the criminal history record information being publicly available.A codefendant, Luke Colter Law had faced the same criminal charges as did Clements, but the Superior Court Clerk’s Office said that his case had also been sealed, so no information about the case could be disclosed.

Defense attorney William Cowsert did not return calls or emails seeking comment about his client’s final court disposition.

According to a University of Georgia Police Department incident report, the incident in question occurred early the morning of Oct. 25, 2021, when two UGA officers who were on patrol came upon Clements and Law in the entrance to the parking lot at the Lamar Dodd School of Art’s Thomas Street Art Complex while Clements was using a large stick to beat a small animal on the ground.

Clements threw down the stick and both students began walking away upon seeing the approaching patrol car, and as the car passed the parking lot’s entrance, the officers could see the animal “was still flailing about,” according to the report.

The officers got out of their car and told the students to sit on a curb so they could conduct an investigation, the report noted.

One of the officers wrote in the report that the students were detained on the belief “they were committing cruelty to animals by causing physical pain, suffering, or death by an unjustified act to the animal.”

Clements admitted to beating the opossum, and both students said Law never struck it but was present during the incident.

According to the report, the students said they were from South Georgia and “they know a lot about opossums” and believed the one they killed had rabies from the way it was behaving. Clements reportedly said the animal was limping and made a hissing noise at him and so he

However, the indictment states that the two additional felony cruelty charges allege that the students seriously disfigured the opossum's head and eye by beating it with a stick, and for inflicting severe pain on the animal.

The indictment also added the misdemeanor charge of hunting with an unlawful weapon, a reference to the stick.

According to a University of Georgia Police Department incident report, the incident in question occurred early the morning of Oct. 25, 2021, when two UGA officers who were on patrol came upon Clements and Law in the entrance to the parking lot at the Lamar Dodd School of Art’s Thomas Street Art Complex, with Clements using a large stick to beat a small animal on the ground.

Clements threw down the stick and both students began walking away upon seeing the approaching patrol car, and as the car passed the parking lot’s entrance, the officers could see the animal “was still flailing about,” according to the report.

The officers got out of their car and told the students to sit on a curb so they could conduct an investigation, the report noted.

One of the officers wrote in the report that the students were detained on the belief “they were committing cruelty to animals by causing physical pain, suffering, or death by an unjustified act to the animal.”

Clements admitted to beating the opossum, and both students said Law never struck it but was present during the incident.

According to the report, the students said they were from South Georgia and “they know a lot about opossums” and believed the one they killed had rabies from the way it was behaving. Clements reportedly said the animal was limping and made a hissing noise at him and so he struck it in the neck with the stick, “then decided to put it out of its misery, so he began beating it to kill it” to protect himself and others.

When the students asked one of the officers what he would have done if a rabid opossum approached him, the officer responded that opossums cannot carry rabies due to their body temperature, according to the police report.

Officers later reviewed video footage from an area surveillance camera, which reportedly showed images that were at odds with the students' account of the incident.

“The camera footage showed the opossum never advanced towards Clements or Law before Clements struck it with the stick,” one of the officers wrote in the report. “Clements maliciously chased, cornered and beat the opossum with a large stick. Law maliciously chased and cornered the opossum while Clements beat it. While Clements was maliciously beating the opossum to death one of the opossum’s eyes was dislodged from its socket.”

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Kathryn Fowler
Kathryn Fowler
01 jun 2023

Note that our fearless State Senator Bill Cowsert was the defense attorney. He brokered this deal, basically, by arguing that cruelty is perfectly legal if the animal is a game animal.

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AMP
AMP
31 may 2023

Deplorable !!!😱😡

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Why do opossums rarely get rabies?

And while they're not totally immune to rabies, they rarely carry it. As a marsupial, possums have a lower body temperature than most other mammals, so their bodies don't provide a suitable environment for the virus.May 19, 2020


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Daddy’s money and connections strike again. We can’t have these fine upstanding young men saddled with a conviction of animal cruelty just as they are getting started in life. What would the folks back home think? Besides, they’re both from south Georgia which makes them possum “experts”. They said so themselves. If they say it was rabid then I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. I’m sure possum was Sunday dinner for them growing up so they must know the difference between a sick one and a healthy one. Nah, no reason to hold them accountable when their entire futures are at stake. After all, these aren’t just regular guys, they’re “Georgia Men”. I just hope they don’t gradu…

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Athens is safe again! Great work DA Office! Remind me, did they use a gun? or a assault gun? stun gun? water gun?

Wonder how many hours were spent on this case while others get dismissed for expired reply deadlines by the DA?


Lots of info but none on their community service? They should do summer hot dog work. Scrapping dead road kill off the roads. It would be good therapy.


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