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Defense claims starving hens part of egg-laying process
Testimony continues in animal cruelty case
hens pic 2
The animal rescue groups that provided sanctuary for about 5,000 hens documented the conditions of the barns the hens were kept in after being discovered by law enforcement in 2012. - photo by Photo Contributed

Attorneys began unveiling their strategies Wednesday for defending two individuals accused of animal cruelty for abandoning 50,000 hens at an egg farm outside Turlock.

Defense attorney Martha Carlton-Magana, who is defending Andy Cheung, 42, opened up a line of questioning during Wednesday’s preliminary hearing that implied the lack of food for the hens was done purposefully to restart the egg laying process.

Marlon Simon, who is defending Lien Diep, 37, argued that his client was the manager of A&L Poultry and not the person ultimately responsible for the well-being of the hens. Simon also initiated a line of questioning that suggested his client believed the hens were in the process of being taken by an animal rescue group.

Cheung and Diep are each facing a charge of animal cruelty for 50,000 hens left dead or in poor health at the A&L Poultry farm at 9501 S. Carpenter Road.

On Feb. 21, 2012 Stanislaus County Animal Control Services Deputy Timothy Wester was dispatched to the farm after receiving a complaint of thousands of dead hens. At the facility Wester found thousands of dead hens in cages with hens that were starving. He also testified on Tuesday of a “soupy” mixture of urine and feces covering the floor.

Wester testified on Tuesday he spoke with Cheung, who told him the hens had stopped laying eggs and that he was in the process of changing out the flock. On Wednesday Carlton-Magana asked the deputy if he was familiar with the process of a forced molt, a process that denies hens food to restart their egg production.

Both defense attorneys also opened lines of questioning that suggested the company was in the process of having an animal rescue group come in and take custody of the hens and that in the process the hens had mistakenly not been feed.

As an answer Wester gave the analogy that “if someone is going to babysit my kids tomorrow, I’m still going to feed them today.”

Carlton-Magana also introduced the possibility the whole scenario could have been staged by an animal rights group to highlight the egg production industry.

Of the estimated 50,000 chickens found at A&L Poultry, more than 20,000 were dead of starvation or drowned in the manure pits under the cages. Another 25,000 were euthanized because the damage to their bodies was too great.  Animal Place, Farm Sanctuary, and Harvest Home Animal Sanctuary rescued about 5,000 hens, an effort that was documented in the film “Turlock.”

“There is no ethical difference between cruelty to hens and cruelty to dogs or cats. If the defendants had caused tens of thousands of puppies or kittens to die from dehydration, felony charges would certainly be filed, and the same should happen here,” said Bruce Friedrich, the director of policy for Farm Sanctuary, one of the groups that participated in the rescue. “Chickens are individuals with interests, and the level of suffering caused in this case is beyond most of our worst nightmares. We applaud the prosecutor for continuing to pursue this case.”

At the time of the discovery, Stanislaus County Animal Services Executive Director Annette Patton referred to the abandonment as the worst case of animal cruelty the county has ever seen.

Testimony in the preliminary hearing is expected to continue Tuesday.