Two animal rights activists who rescued pigs from a Smithfield meat factory farm have been acquitted after standing trial in the US.
Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, who filmed themselves taking two sick piglets from a Utah farm in 2017, were facing burglary and theft charges. If found guilty, they risked a prison sentence of five years each.
On Saturday night, the jury unanimously found them not guilty. Activists said the trial has set a “powerful precedent” for the right to rescue animals.
Hsiung, an attorney who represented himself, told the jury in his closing statement: “I don’t actually want you to acquit us on a legal technicality. I want you to acquit us as a matter of conscience. There’s a big difference between stealing and rescue.”
In 2017, Hsiung and Picklesimer entered Circle Four Farms in Utah. The farm is one of the United States’ largest pork producers, processing one million pigs a year. They were investigating the use of gestation crates, which Smithfield promised to ban back in 2007.
When they entered the farm, they saw “row after row” of the cages. These two foot by seven foot metal stalls offered the pigs no room to turn around. The animals could spend up to five years of their life in them while pregnant.
The two pigs they rescued, later named Lizzie and Lily, are still alive today. Hsiung previously said in an interview that the pigs were ill and close to dying when they found them.
Hsiung and Picklesimer filmed the conditions on the farm, but the footage wasn’t allowed to be used in the trial due to the fact that it may have caused “horror” to the jury.
The activists claimed this was a violation of their constitutional rights and is part of a broader pattern of undue corporate influence.
Hsuing previously stated that the FBI, dozens of agents, and attorneys tried to prosecute the case “for years.” This is despite the fact that the commercial value of each piglet was around $42.20. The FBI were sent to raid sanctuaries in search of Lily and Lizzie after they were rescued.
“State and federal authorities have consistently shielded factory farms from transparency and accountability,” said Matthew Strugar, a constitutional lawyer involved in all successful efforts to overturn “ag-gag” statutes.
“In nearly two decades of legal work, this case is one of the most egregious I’ve seen, in terms of denying defendants’ constitutional right to a rigorous defense.”