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Man who shot cat with arrow gets 30 days in jail

He also must not own or possess any animals or weapons while on his 18 months' probation.

By RICHARD DANIELSON, Times Staff Writer
Published August 24, 2006

[Times photo: Douglas R. Clifford]
Archer, right, is teased by housemate Solo in the Tarpon Springs home where they live with another cat and two dogs. Archer was shot with a crossbow when a kitten weighing less than 2 pounds. His owner, Kathy Powers, says that he is now doing great.

A Palm Harbor man charged with shooting a 9-week-old kitten with a crossbow has been sentenced to 30 days in jail and 18 months' probation.

Stephen H. Cockerill, 20, also must write a letter of thanks to the Humane Society of Pinellas for operating on the cat and saving its life.

Cockerill was charged with animal cruelty a year ago after the 1½ pound kitten was found impaled with an arrow in an industrial area of Tarpon Springs.

The arrow fractured a rib, punctured a lung and sliced through the kitten's liver. The cat was soon named Archer, and his story prompted hundreds of people to call Humane Society.

Within days, Tarpon Springs police had received a half-dozen tips, all pointing to Cockerill.

Friends of Cockerill told police that on Aug. 17, 2005, they were walking on Wesley Avenue, where they and Cockerill worked on trucks. They noticed a group of strays.

Friends said they watched Cockerill grab a crossbow from his truck and tell them he was going to shoot a cat.

He fired once, skewering the kitten through its midsection, police said. The kitten ran away before the group could catch it.

Then Cockerill grabbed a second arrow, fired at another cat but missed, police said.

When a detective found Cockerill a few days later and told him he was being arrested, Cockerill handed the investigator a cell phone and said, "Talk to my attorney," police said.

Cockerill's defense attorney offers a much different account of what happened.

"It was sheerly accidental," said attorney Elizabeth Hittos of Holiday.

She said Cockerill was with friends, using his crossbow to do target-shooting at some foam cups. Some stray cats wandered in the area and an errant shot hit the kitten, she said.

Cockerill felt awful and "tried to find the cat as it scurried off" but could not, she said.

"He's a good kid, and this was a complete aberration," she said.

The prosecutor on the case doesn't buy that.

"My position was that you don't accidentally shoot a kitten," assistant state attorney Aaron Slavin said.

Hittos also maintained that Cockerill was ready to cooperate with police, but a different attorney he had consulted told him not to make any statements to investigators. That's why, she said, he asked the arresting officer to talk to his lawyer.

Cockerill pleaded guilty to the single charge of animal cruelty on July 28.

"While I'm confident and a bunch of other people are confident that this was an accidental event, it's always a roll of the dice" to go to trial, Hittos said.

Considering that Cockerill could have gone to prison if convicted at trial, "I think that's a risk he didn't want to take," she said.

At sentencing, Circuit Judge Doug Baird ordered Cockerill not to own or possess any animals or weapons while on probation. He also must undergo a psychological evaluation, complete any followup treatment that is prescribed and perform 100 hours of community service.

Baird also withheld a formal judgment of guilt. That means that Cockerill, who has never been charged with any other crime, would not be a convicted felon if he successfully completes his probation.

"The sentence, I think, is a fair balance of being strict and taking everything into account," Slavin said.

Meanwhile, Archer has been adopted by Kathy Powers, 45, who found the wounded kitten near her business, Tropic Signs and Tropic Shirts.

In the year since then, Archer has grown into a normal house cat, Powers said Wednesday.

"He's great," she said. "He's about 12 or 14 pounds. He's huge."

And while Archer is friendly with his family, "he doesn't like any kind of strangers," Powers said. "He runs and hides."

Considering his history, she said, she doesn't blame him a bit.

[Last modified August 23, 2006, 22:10:36]

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