Published November 29, 2009 by The Tennessean
Sex-with-animals cases surface in 3 TN counties
Bestiality law unused for year after passage
It was a law no one ever wanted to see put to the test.
Two years ago, the Tennessee legislature put into statute what most people assumed should go without saying — it is illegal to have sex with an animal in this state.
But prosecutors across Middle Tennessee have cause to be glad that someone spelled that felony out. No less than three bestiality cases have come up in separate counties in recent months.
Three people stand accused of engaging in sex acts with farm animals in Maury County. In Humphreys County, a youth football coach was already under investigation for child rape when police reportedly found images of bestiality on his cell phone.
And in Nashville, police charged a man and a woman under the new statute after a tipster turned over photos of them having sexual contact with a dog.
Plenty of people cracked jokes about the bestiality bill when it came up in the legislature in 2007.
But District Attorney General Mike Bottoms, who is prosecuting the Maury County case, said he's not sure what he could have charged the Maury County defendants with if the statute hadn't been on the books.
"There are laws against cruelty to animals, but they dealt more into the neglect of the animals, which wasn't the case here," Bottoms said.
The Maury County case revolves around 58-year-old James Tait. Audiences who watched the critically acclaimed documentary Zoo a few years ago heard Tait's voice, narrating his part in the story of a Washington State man who died of internal injuries after a sexual encounter with a horse.
It was Tait who videotaped the fatal encounter and later drove the dying man to the hospital. The case prompted Washington State to criminalize bestiality after frustrated law enforcement officials were unable to charge Tait with anything more than trespassing in a stable.
Maury County investigators found photographic and video evidence of similar activity at the farm on Double Branch Road.
"We had no idea this sort of thing was happening," said Maury County Detective Terry Chandler. "This goes on. These people live all across the United States, and they know each other."
Washington State is considering a new law that would add bestiality offenses to the sexual offender registry, and Chandler said he would like to see a similar law in Tennessee.
Along with Tait, deputies arrested his housemate, Kenny Thomason, 44, and 35-year-old Christy Morris. All three remain in jail, awaiting a grand jury hearing in early November.
Officers wanted law
It was Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, who pushed to get a bestiality bill on the books. The law makes it a class E felony to engage in sexual activity with an animal, or to help someone else do so, or to allow it to happen on one's property, or to take or possess pictures or videos of such activities, or to advertise, organize or promote that sort of behavior. The law makes exceptions for commercial animal husbandry activities.
"You can imagine all the remarks I got," Maggart said. "It sounds funny, until you know what's going on."
Maggart and groups like the Humane Society of the United States point to studies that show the high correlation between sexual abuse of animals and sexual abuse of children. She said she sponsored the bill at the urging of local law enforcement officials.
One study, linked on the Humane Society Web page, found that 96 percent of juveniles who engaged in sexual abuse of animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans. In another study, some 37 percent of sexually violent juvenile offenders were found to have a history of animal sexual assault. An FBI study found that serial killers have a high rate of animal sexual abuse as well.
The Humphreys County case is still under investigation, and no charges have been filed, but the initial warrant cited photos of bestiality found on the coach's cell phone during the investigation. A local parent had accused the coach of drugging and raping a boy during a slumber party.
For the first year the new law was on the books, the Administrative Office of the Courts has no record of anyone in Tennessee being charged with bestiality. That changed in May, when Nashville police got a tip that led them to a couple who had images on their computer of the two of them performing sex acts on a dog.
The woman was given a suspended sentence. The man, who told police he met his girlfriend "on the Internet and she is into bestiality," is still awaiting trial.
© 2009 The Tennessean
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