3rd KY Enquirer Story--11.7.08 FRONT PAGE!

COVINGTON - The accused killer of two housecats became the first person in Northern Kentucky - and possibly the state - to be charged under a law that now makes it a felony to torture and kill a cat or dog.Russell Swigart, 30, of Highland Heights was indicted Thursday on two counts of killing the pets.Investigators say he broke into the Lakeside Park home of his former employee, Bridgette Wright, and attacked the cats, named Piggy and Mr. Frank.He also left threatening messages for Wright, they say.

Swigart was arrested the morning after the cats were found. He had a knife covered in cat hair and blood, according to court records.He was originally charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty when he was arrested Sept. 26. Investigators at the time were unaware of the felony law that went on the books July 15.Swigart faces up to five years on each cruelty count. He would have faced no more than 12 months in jail under the previous law.Swigart was also indicted on one count of burglary for allegedly breaking into the home. That charge carries a penalty of 10 to 20 years in prison. If found guilty on all charges, he could be sentenced to up to 30 years in prison.

The burglary charge will be easier to prove, Kenton Commonwealth's Attorney Rob Sanders said.In order to get a felony conviction for killing the cats, Sanders must show that the animals died while being tortured. He declined to be specific, but said he thinks the evidence supports the felony charges.The tougher penalty for killing animals came about after someone videotaped a yellow Labrador in southeastern Kentucky being punched, body slammed and choked, said Courtney Girdler, a board member of the Pulaski County Humane Society.

The law was named after the dog, Romeo. The dog survived, and stamped the legislation with his paw when Gov. Steve Beshear signed it."When we passed this law, there was broad bipartisan support for it," said state Sen. Damon Thayer, who co-sponsored the bill. "This type of intentional cruelty should be not tolerated." The Republican has cats, dogs and horses at his Georgetown home.

Swigart was being held at the Kenton County jail Thursday in lieu of $100,000 bond.

His public defender, John Delaney, said he wasn't familiar enough with the indictment to comment.