Lackawanna animal-control officer Frederick S. Grasso finally got his day in court Monday, testifying that he shot and killed three cats last June only after they had hissed and spat at him from the basement of a Lackawanna apartment complex.
"I opened the door, I took two steps downstairs, and three cats -- the mother and two kittens -- came at me," Grasso testified at his daylong trial on two misdemeanor charges. "They were all hissing and spitting at me."
Grasso then went back to his vehicle and grabbed his rifle.
"At that point, the safest means to dispose of those cats was to shoot them," Grasso told West Seneca Town Justice Richard B. Scott.
The case was transferred to West Seneca because it had generated so much comment and publicity in Lackawanna.
Asked later by defense attorney Arcangelo J. Petricca whether he had any alternative to shooting the cats, Grasso replied: "No, I don't believe there was any alternative. There was no safe way to remove those cats."
The nonjury trial also heard testimony from six prosecution witnesses and three defense witnesses. Following the daylong proceeding, Scott reserved decision until Feb. 20.
The conflicting testimony presented two widely varying accounts of the three cats that were shot June 10 on Eagan Drive.
Prosecution witnesses, including neighbors and officials of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, portrayed the slain cats and four surviving kittens from the same family as docile, friendly animals that purred and even jumped onto neighbors' laps.
Barbara S. Carr, executive director of the Erie County SPCA, examined the four surviving kittens about two weeks after the shootings.
"They were perfectly normal kittens," Carr told the court. "They were friendly, purring, liked to be touched and didn't struggle to get away."
Michael P. Felicetta, an Erie County assistant district attorney, asked Patricia Murtha, a neighbor from Eagan Drive in Lackawanna, whether the mother cat was aggressive.
"No way, no way," she replied. "Any time she came over, she craved attention."
Several other witnesses provided similar descriptions of the cats' behavior.
"[Grasso] would have you believe that the mother and her two kittens turned evil, turned nasty [that day]," Felicetta said in his closing statement.
During the trial, Scott viewed a DVD shot by SPCA Peace Officer Charles Braun about two weeks after the shootings and depicting the four surviving kittens as very playful.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with June 10," Petricca objected. "It doesn't help evaluate the situation on June 10. . . . It's irrelevant."
Much of the prosecution testimony earlier in the day focused on witnesses who had heard Grasso admit the shootings. But that testimony became moot later in the trial, when Grasso admitted to having fired the three fatal shots.
Earlier, defense witness Vera Bink, the rental manager for the Eagan Drive apartment complex, told the court about the phone call she made to Grasso after having been confronted by the mother cat in the basement.
"I told him on the phone, 'Be careful. Take caution. . . . The female cat hissed at me, and she was ready to charge the stairs,' " Bink said.
"She was afraid to enter her basement, and she feared for the safety of her tenants," Grasso testified about Bink.
Grasso faces two unclassified misdemeanor charges under the state Agriculture and Markets Law, one for cruelty to animals, the other for euthanizing a dog or cat by gunshot.
The law on which the second charge is based states that no one may euthanize a dog or cat by gunshot, except as an emergency procedure for a "dangerous dog" or a severely injured dog or cat.
As Felicetta pointed out, the statute doesn't talk about a "dangerous cat," and there's no evidence or testimony that any of the cats here were severely injured.
But Petricca, in his opening statement, argued that the euthanasia charge should be dismissed.
"This is not a euthanasia case, your honor," he said. "This is not a Kevorkian-type killing."