March 26, 1998 in Nation/World

Charges Dropped In Ferret Killings Detectives Find Discrepancies In Owner’s Account Of Incident

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Prosecutors have dropped criminal charges against a Spokane man accused of killing dozens of ferrets after the owner of the animals failed a lie-detector test.

Deputy Prosecutor Michelle Lombardi confirmed Wednesday that she has dismissed eight counts of animal cruelty against 20-year-old Lance A. Seurer.

Police arrested Seurer last December, three weeks after breeder Jean Smith told police 93 of her ferrets had been slaughtered in her north Spokane home.

After months of investigation, police said they found no witnesses who could verify Smith’s account that she had spotted Seurer inside her house on Nov. 21, moments before finding the dead ferrets.

At the time, Seurer was renting a room inside Smith’s East Wellesley home. After his arrest, he insisted he hadn’t harmed the animals. A trial was set to start next month in Spokane County Superior Court.

The killings outraged animal-rights activists around the globe. Smith received sympathy and support from as far away as Europe and Asia.

Bank accounts to help Smith, 50, were started in Spokane and in Idaho after she reported that the net loss from the ferrets exceeded $7,000.

But police continued investigating the crime and found discrepancies in Smith’s accounts.

Last month, detectives requested she take a lie-detector test. On Wednesday, they cited the results as the basis for dismissing the charges.

Seurer’s attorney, Doug Phelps, said Smith should have been the prime suspect in the ferret killings all along.

“If you look at motive, my client had nothing to gain from doing this,” Phelps said.

He said Smith was struggling financially last year and had begun feeding her ferrets cat food to save money.

“Then this happens and two bank accounts here are started to help her out. And animal-rights people from all over the world rally to her cause,” Phelps said.

Lombardi said Smith was asked, during the lie-detector test whether she killed the ferrets. The prosecutor would not say how Smith answered the question or how it was scored by the machine.

“That’s still a part of the investigation that might come up in the future,” Lombardi said.

Phelps said he has seen the lie-detector tests, and they show a 72 percent “likelihood of deception.”

Another reason prosecutors cited for dropping the charges was concern over how many ferrets died.

Smith claims 93 were killed, but police could find only 20 bodies, said Police Detective Joe Walker.

Seurer faced eight counts of animal cruelty because that’s how many ferrets were examined by a Pullman veterinarian and found to have been poisoned. Each charge carried up to a year in jail.

Authorities initially reported that the ferrets were injected with a poisonous chemical.

The charges against Seurer were dropped Tuesday without prejudice. That means he could be charged again later if more evidence is uncovered.

Phelps said Seurer, who is living with relatives, was relieved by the dismissal. He still faces three unrelated counts of possession of stolen property. Police say he was found with more than $3,000 worth of computer equipment stolen last year from Laser Quest in downtown Spokane.

Smith, contacted at home Wednesday, urged police to continue investigating the crime.

Asked why police found only 20 dead ferrets, she said: “I know how many there were. I had the others disposed of.”

She declined to comment further, saying her attorney advised her to say nothing more.

Police and Lombardi cited these other problems with the case: Smith told authorities she spotted Seurer inside her home moments before finding the dying ferrets. She said other people who came to the house at her request also saw him there.

“But nobody else confirms that he was there,” Lombardi said.

Smith told police she found a syringe inside the home that might have been used in killing the ferrets.

The syringe has never been found, and the person Smith said she gave it to later says she never saw it.

Smith told investigators she found a chemical inside a container in her house the day the ferrets died. She told police she sent it to a WSU veterinarian to see if it might have killed the animals.

That veterinarian never received that container, Lombardi said.

That veterinarian, Eric Stauber of Washington State University, said tissue tests are needed in order to determine the chemical injected into the ferrets.

That would involve sending samples to a clinic in the Midwest. That step has not yet been taken, Lombardi said.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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