In a case one defense attorney said “stirred the passions of the mob,” a judge on Thursday sentenced a Newport, Wash., woman to nine months in jail for running what prosecutors called an appalling puppy mill.
Jeanette Bergman also must serve 90 hours of community service, and she and her husband, Swen, are prohibited from owning or selling dogs for two years.
The Bergmans agreed to forfeit ownership of the 205 dogs authorities seized from their kennel earlier this year. In exchange, the judge suspended nearly $50,000 in fines.
The dogs, which include golden retrievers and bull mastiffs, have been held in foster homes across the state pending the outcome of the trial. They now will be available for adoption.
“That’s welcome news to a lot of people,” said Tom Metzger, Pend Oreille County prosecutor.
District Judge Chuck Baechler sentenced Swen Bergman to 90 days of house arrest and 90 days of community service. He will be required to wear an electronic monitor that alerts authorities if he leaves his home.
The judge agreed to return four horses and two cows to the couple.
Last week, following a two-week bench trial, Baechler found the couple guilty of 16 animal-cruelty counts and innocent of four more. Each carried a possible 90-day jail term.
Thursday’s six-hour sentencing hearing included name-calling and arm-waving. Six people took the stand to support the Bergmans.
But Metzger painted the couple as dangerous people who couldn’t be trusted around animals.
“What type of people would take puppies, hold them down, and cut their ears off?” Metzger said.
“We must put an end to the needless pain and suffering.”
The Bergmans told the judge they believed the dogs they raised were well cared for.
“I didn’t see any pain and suffering,” said Swen Bergman, 48. “Maybe I missed it. I love animals and I am not the monster they portrayed me to be.”
His 45-year-old wife tearfully testified that caring for the dogs consumed most of her time, with the rest devoted to attending church and raising her five children.
“We are warm, gentle people,” she said.
Both said they had suffered from widespread publicity about the misdemeanor case, and from the loss of their business. The Bergmans’ lawyers say they have received death threats.
Prosecutors were thrilled with the outcome, especially the sentence handed to Jeanette Bergman, who Metzger said was the primary culprit.
Defense attorneys called the sentences gross injustice and vowed to appeal.
Attorney Dennis Scott, who represented Jeanette Bergman, said he thought Baechler was influenced by animal rights groups and sensational press coverage of the case.
A group called the Animal Legal Defense Fund had sent a controversial friend-of-the-court brief to Baechler during the trial, asking for harsh punishment.
The decision left Spokane attorney Charles Dorn, who represented Swen Bergman, scratching his head.
“I think, in the scheme of things, it’s incredible,” Dorn said. “People who kill people driving drunk often get off with less.”
Dorn said the Bergmans are being penalized for “failure to give effective medical treatment to 16 dogs during one of the harshest winters on record.
“There are hundreds of thousands or millions of people in America who are criminals, if failure to give effective medical treatment is the basis of criminality,” said Dorn, a self-described animal lover. “I think I could find more clarity by going down the hole with Alice into Wonderland.”
The case began after deputies and volunteers, joined by newspaper and TV reporters, raided the Bergmans’ Mountain Top Kennel on Jan. 4.
Authorities said they found the dogs living in woefully inadequate conditions. Many had no shelter or access to water.
Several had their intestines hanging out, broken bones sticking through their flesh and pus-oozing sores. Fifteen dogs had already died.
The discovery sparked outrage throughout the area. Talk radio crackled with criticism of the Bergmans and letters to the editor called for their swift conviction.
“This one really stirred the passions of the mob,” Dorn said.
The conviction was Jeanette Bergman’s second in six years.
In 1991, she was sentenced to a month in jail in Kootenai County after pleading guilty to several charges relating to poor animal care, including feeding dog parts to pigs and other dogs.
“We really harped on that today,” Metzger said.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Adam Lynn Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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