SALT LAKE CITY — A self-proclaimed animal lover who raided a South Jordan mink farm two years ago faced the family he had targeted, during an emotional federal court hearing Wednesday.
"I can't really understand why you would think it's OK to come and destroy our family's enterprises," third-generation mink rancher Lindsey McMullin told Alex Jason Hall. "I wish you would have been there with me to recover (the mink), to see the damage and destruction it did to their lives."
McMullin said the August 2008 raid on his farm also hurt his family psychologically, especially his children, who had nightmares and were scared by phrases such as "ALF: We Are Watching" spray-painted on ranch buildings.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson allowed Hall, 22, to address the McMullins before sentencing him to prison for pleading guilty to damaging and interfering with an animal enterprise.
"Guys, you don't have anything to fear with me," a shackled and handcuffed Hall said facing the family. "I truly express my deepest remorse."
The Ogden man and William James Viehl, 23, of Layton, released 650 minks, destroyed breeding records and vandalized buildings on the McMullin ranch. Viehl was previously sentenced to 24 months in prison. He and Hall were ordered to repay the McMullins $66,753 in damages. All but 50 mink were recovered, but several died after being hit by cars or from stress after they were returned to the farm, McMullin said. Others were dehydrated and lethargic.
Hall's apology prompted Benson to impose a 21-month prison term, three months less than he originally had planned. The judge also ordered Hall to not associate with the Animal Liberation Front or the Earth Liberation Front. The press office for the Animal Liberation Front posted a statement after the raid from "a local soldier out of Utah" saying mink had been released and breeding records destroyed.
The judge wasn't impressed with a written statement Hall had submitted to the court accepting responsibility for his actions, because the statement mostly outlined Hall's disdain for the exploitation of animals. Benson said he doesn't know if it's right or wrong to raise mink, but it's legal, and no one has the right to terrorize people who do it, "no matter how fervently we believe in something."
"I hope you mean it that you're not going to do this again," the judge said.
Hall called his actions that night a "huge mistake" and said he had "failed to see the big picture."
"It sickens me to think something I did caused a child to have nightmares," he said.
Hall, who has been held in the Davis County Jail for a year, said he has learned his lesson. "I really don't want to risk losing my freedom again."
McMullin said after the hearing that he accepts Hall's apology.
"We're not vindictive people. We're hopeful he puts this behind him and moves on and becomes a productive citizen," he said.