Activist e-mails have DA ready kick lamb thief free; but industry can turn tide - Commentary

February 14, 2003

By Dan Murphy


Last month, ran a story detailing an incident in which an operative affiliated with the anti-industry group Farm Sanctuary drove onto the property of Rory Miller, a lamb farmer in Schuyler County in upstate New York, broke into Miller's barn and stole one of his lambs (see, "Farm Sanctuary steals NY producer's lamb; DA may let activist off the hook").

Susan Coston, the animal activist involved, claimed she was on a "rescue mission" to save an injured lamb, and Farm Sanctuary leader Gene Bauston at first tried to disavow any connection with Coston's "mission," even though she is an employee of the organization.

Days later, Bauston posted an "alert" on several vegetarian and anti-industry Web sites, resulting in more than 1,500 e-mails being sent to the local district attorney, Joseph G. Fazzary, urging him to free Coston and charge Miller with animal cruelty, according to local newspaper accounts.

Fazzary declined to file cruelty charges, but is now said to be contemplating reducing the felony charge of breaking and entering against Coston to a misdemeanor and allowing her to escape the usual penalties and have her case expunged in six months, as "a way out of the problem" created by the publicity surrounding the case.

Here are the facts of the case, as relayed by Miller himself to the

Read his account of what happened and decide for yourself if this incident was a rescue mission, or whether it constituted a crime that deserves appropriate punishment.

"I didn't find out until 10 days after the lamb had been stolen what actually happened," Miller told The "During that time, nobody called, nobody [from Farm Sanctuary] notified me -- which is ironic, because for a number of years now I have been shearing the sheep that live on Farm Sanctuary's property. They know me, and they know how to contact me.

"What I did find out by talking with my neighbor was that a pick-up truck had been parked on the property for quite awhile [earlier in the week of the theft]. The barn where the sheep are housed is 300 feet down a driveway off the road, so nobody could have 'happened to be there' and claimed to have seen anything that could be construed as abuse.

"Later, [Coston] tried to say that she had received a 'tip' at 4 a.m., and thus couldn't contact anyone. Well, nobody phones in tips at 4 a.m., and no emergency personnel are available to rescue an animal at that time. The reality is that Coston phoned in her own tip.

"As for the injury, the lamb had a congenital defect affecting its vertebrae. Even the New York Farm Bureau agreed that the animal was a victim of an unfortunate birth defect -- an abscess on its spine -- and not a victim of cruelty. In fact, the district attorney already said that I am not being charged with animal cruelty or any other crime in this matter."

However, as of mid-week, Miller said that the district attorney in the case, Joseph Fazzary, is bending under the weight of all the e-mails from animal activist supporters and was considering dropping the charges against Coston.

If you agree that Coston deserves to be held accountable, here is a statement you can adapt, sign and e-mail directly to the district attorney's office as a show of industry support:

To: Joseph G. Fazzary, Esq., District Attorney

I respectfully urge you to reconsider reducing the charges against Ms. Susan Coston, who broke into Mr. Rory Miller's barn and stole one of his lambs.

Justice demands that all defendants be treated equally under the law, and it would be hard to imagine your office deciding to drop charges if a businessman broke into the headquarters of an organization he didn't like and stole its computers or other valuables.

Allowing Ms. Coston to escape conviction and punishment because she characterized her act of burglary as a rescue mission -- although neither Miller nor law enforcement authorities were notified before, during or after the alleged rescue -- sends a signal to all others who share her political opposition to raising livestock that they have the green light in your jurisdiction to engage in similar tactics without fear of legal consequences.

That is unfair, unjust and most assuredly inappropriate.


Your name and company affiliation

Please spend a couple minutes today and e-mail that statement -- or one of your own -- to Fazzary at

Alternatively, letters may be faxed to Fazzary at 607-535-8385.

Without a show of industry support, the activists win by default, adding yet another chapter to what is becoming an ongoing saga of attacks, vandalism and theft against legitimate producers and packers -- in this case, a theft that threatens to go unpunished.