Peter Northcutt was found guilty of 3 counts of assaulting two Peace Officers after a three-day trial at the Carbon County District Court last week. He was also found not guilty of the charge of aggravated animal cruelty.
The prosecution team was led by Carbon County attorney Alex Nixon.
Northcutt will remain free on a previously posted $100,000 bond while awaiting sentencing. Judge Loren Tucker of Dillon also modified the 7 p.m. curfew imposed on Northcutt to allow him to attend services at the Buddhist facility in Billings.
The trial centered on an incident on July 21, 2011 at the Northcutt’s family ranch near Joliet. Carbon County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Jeff Schmalz arrived at the ranch to carry out a welfare check on Northcutt after Jim Northcutt, Peter’s brother, had received a text telling him that “God speed be with you. You’re turn to take care of mom now.”
Jim Northcutt, when questioned in court, said he was concerned this could be a suicide message from Peter and asked the Sheriff’s department to check on him.
In his testimony, Schmalz said on his arrival at the ranch that he saw some dogs lying down and thought they were sleeping. They had been laid out in an unusual star shaped pattern.
Schmalz recalled the defendant approaching him, then leaving, returning with a gun and pointing it at him. Schmalz retreated to his vehicle, reversed to the gate of the ranch and was joined by Joliet Police Chief Mike Rupprecht. Both stayed behind their cars until backup arrived.
Schmalz said the “defendant was yelling at them, and fired on them.”
As the situation intensified, the decision was made to call the SWAT team from Billings. When the ranch had been secured, officers approached and found Northcutt unconscious and lying amid a mound of dogs. Court photographs later showed up to six star shaped piles of Huskies, scattered throughout the ranch Northcutt’s attorney Penny Strong countered the prosecution’s witnesses, saying that Northcutt was only testing the firearm because it had jammed.
Strong added that Northcutt had just lost his father and was “caught in a Shakespearean power struggle with brothers Bill and Jim.”
The Northcutt’s father died July 17, four days earlier. and Strong told how Peter had been confronted by his brothers and told to get rid of the dogs.
Peter decided to put dogs down, and didn’t want them to go to anyone. They were huskies, and not ideal for family pets, she explained.
He spent Wednesday evening praying in preparation to euthanize the dogs so they could all “cross the rainbow bridge together.”
The defendant gave the dogs a sedative encased in cheese and waited until they were asleep before getting his gun and shooting them. As the sedative wore off he stopped killing. Northcutt also took the sedative.
All those giving testimony talked about the excessive heat of the day. Many said it was up to 98 degrees; the flies were thick, and blood and brain tissues was everywhere.
Jim Northcutt had to stop several times in his testimony to control his own anguish when describing the scene.
“I had 54 dogs to bury. We had to cut the wires to get the dogs out, a backhoe was used, and by the end of the day dogs and kennels were gone. With the heat, the shape they were in…..I’ve seen some gruesome things in my life but not like that day, heads blown off, thick with flies, body parts separating, hair coming away. Holes of blood, brain matter, dog parts. Just horrendous,” he said.
Jim Northcutt demolished 28 dog houses and pushed them into a pile,
“I’m glad Ken Oz (owner of True Value) isn’t here but I drove that skid loader like it was rented and stolen. I vented my anger on the houses,” he said.
Schmalz told the prosecution he “thinks about the incident everyday when I work, how close I came that day.”
During the trail Peter Northcutt looked downward when photographs of his dogs lying dead were shown.