LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Criminals in Nevada serving serious prison time for violently abusing animals may be up for parole sooner than expected.
13 Investigates explains who they are, what they did, and why their crimes are being looked at through a different lens.
Their acts of depravity are considered some of the worst cases of animal cruelty in the history of our state. But Nevada law classifies animals as property, which means — despite felony convictions — those inmates cannot be classified as "violent" in our prison system, at least for those charges.
The law says violent acts can only be committed against another human. But animal advocates and law enforcement officials say cruelty to animals is usually a precursor to larger crime.
Images of animal cruelty are often too awful to watch. In news coverage we blur video. But in life, the acts are clear and stark.
“Anyone that can commit that kind of heinous act against a helpless animal, you have to wonder," said Gina Greisen of Nevada Voters for Animals. "And we know that there are links between animal cruelty, domestic violence, interpersonal violence, violent crime.”
Greisen has been talking for years about the connection between animal abuse and violence against humans.
“The animal cruelty is like the canary in the coal mine," Greisen said. "You know, we need to address it at that level.”
Case in point: Jason Brown of Reno.
“He, I would say, arguably probably committed one of the most heinous animal cruelty crimes in Nevada history," Greisen said.
Brown was sentenced in October 2015 on seven charges of torturing and killing small dogs in Reno hotel rooms.
The canine killing spree came to an end when hotel staff found beheaded and skinned dogs in a room's mini-fridge.
Police found brutal videos Brown made of himself cutting the dogs up, stomping on them and throwing them on the floor or at walls.
Brown is heard in the videos saying he took the animals to his "house of pain," that he wanted to make a fur coat, and that "Pugs, instead of barking, sound human, like little kids."
Brown pleaded no contest, saying he suffered from addiction and did not remember any of it.
A judge sentenced him to the maximum: 28 years behind bars. Brown wasn't eligible for parole for a little over 11 years. That would have been in 2025.
But the Nevada Department of Corrections recently changed Brown's parole eligibility, saying he could have been free back in December of 2019.
“This is something that we, as a state, as a community, need to face,” Greisen said. “That at some point he is going to get out of prison. But...is now the right time?”
The Department of Corrections says some offenders, including Brown, were mistakenly classified as "violent" in the prison system. That's because Nevada law says only a person can be a victim of violence. Animals are treated as property.
“I say that's the kind of thing that intuitively doesn't make a lot of sense.”
Attorney David Rosengard with the Animal Legal Defense Fund says kicking a dog is not the same thing as breaking a chair. Animals are living creatures who feel pain.
“But the law, historically, hasn't been there, and so this is a process of getting the law to catch up,” Rosengard said.
Thanks to Cooney's Law, which Greisen helped craft more than 10 years ago, serious animal abusers can be charged with felonies in Nevada. But classifying them as non-violent property crimes means credits for good behavior and work behind bars can shorten the minimum end of a prison term.
13 Investigates learned that applies to seven inmates across the state, including Weslie Martin.
Martin was convicted for breaking into Wayne Newton's home and attacking Newton's dog with a crowbar as he fled the scene.
Martin is now eligible for parole in April of 2040, a year earlier than before.
Then, there's inmate Daman Holmes, seen in a video he made repeatedly punching a pit bull as he threatened a woman and her family. He's eligible for parole in July of this year instead of September 2023.
Felon Johnathan Hamly broke into an ex-girlfriend's home, assaulted her, then set the place on fire, killing three of her dogs.
Since he apparently hasn't earned any credits, there's no change to his parole eligibility, which is this coming August.
Animal advocates want state legislators to change the law to ensure criminals like these are held fully accountable.
“There's a specific statute that defines which crimes Nevada deems violent,” said Greisen. “And there are certain violent or sexual crimes. We need to go in and add certain acts of animal violence, animal cruelty to that list.”
It's important to note, though most of the inmates in this story will be eligible for parole sooner, they may not be released. We'll keep track of when their parole hearings come up and let you know.
If you want to share your thoughts with the parole board or track the effort to change state law to address this issue, use this link to the Nevada Voters for Animals Facebook page.