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Ex-National Zoo employee sentenced in attempted feral cat poisoning

By Carol Cratty, CNN
updated 8:26 AM EST, Thu December 15, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ex-researcher receives suspended sentence, probation, community service
  • She was found guilty of putting rat poison in food left for feral cats
  • She was upset because the cats prey on migratory birds, prosecutors say
  • Damage to her career is partial punishment, judge says

Washington (CNN) -- A former researcher at the National Zoo received a 180-day suspended sentence Wednesday for trying to poison feral cats.

Nico Dauphine's sentence on attempted animal cruelty charges also included a year of supervised probation and 120 hours of community service, and she must stay away from cats.

Dauphine, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology and management, was found guilty of placing rat poison in the food that one of her neighbors had left outside their apartment building for felines. Prosecutors said Dauphine was upset because feral cats prey on migratory birds.

During the trial, video was played showing a woman identified by witnesses as Dauphine moving around outside her apartment building in early March. Prosecutors said that was when she added poison to food left for feral cats. The neighbor discovered that a strange yellow substance had been placed on the food several times, removed it and called the local Humane Society.

Superior Court Judge Truman Morrison said he did not believe that Dauphine should serve jail time, because she had no previous criminal record, and prosecutors agreed.

The judge said he had received a number of letters from people who know Dauphine. He said such letters usually try to make a case that the verdict was in error, but in this case, the judge said, no one quarreled with the guilty verdict.

Morrison said it was clear from letters written by Dauphine's colleagues that "her career, if not over, it's in grave jeopardy." The judge said that was already partial punishment for her actions.

Prosecutors said in court and in filings that Dauphine had not accepted responsibility or expressed remorse for the attempted poisonings.

In brief remarks before she was sentenced, Dauphine did not say she was responsible for the attempted poisoning. But she said she was "very ashamed" to have disappointed her supporters and knew that she faced an "enormous task ahead" to regain their esteem. She declined to answer questions from reporters after her court hearing.

In court filings, prosecutors said the scientist was an outspoken critic of attempts to reduce the feral cat population through catching and neutering them. "Instead, the defendant has advocated for the elimination of feral cat populations through euthanasia," according to court documents. "The government is concerned that by attempting to poison cats, the defendant intended to effectuate the message her published works and advocacy were unable to achieve."

Dauphine went to work at the National Zoo in September 2010 as a post-doctoral fellow. A zoo spokeswoman said Dauphine resigned a little over a year later after her conviction on attempted animal cruelty.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Washington Humane Society, attended the sentencing. She said afterward, "We are delighted that justice was served today."

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