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HOUSTON Animal lovers could never imagine deliberately torturing and maiming an animal,so a judge s ruling on a case involving such behavior has touched offa firestorm in Houston.

At issue was the case against Ashley Richards and Brent Justice, the couple arrested last August and accused of making so-called crush videos of animals and selling them on the Internet.

A seven-count federal grand jury indictment accusedRichards andJustice of making eight videos of puppies, chickens and kittens being tortured and killed.

In one case, Justice used a meat cleaver to slash apuppy s neck, cut off its tail and slice its leg, according to court records. Thepit bull pupdied.

Richardsallegedly killed a cat by slitting its throat and stomping its eye with her shoe heel.

Authorities said the couple killed the animals in their southwest Houston home.

Last week, a federal judge dismissed five of seven federal counts against them and cited the free speech clause of the 1st Amendment as justification for his decision.

I don t believe he was thinking of the consequences, said Jennifer Thomas.

It s horrible, Sharon Vangessel added.

KHOU 11 News legal expert attorney Gerald Treece offered a different interpretation of the law.

You ve got to stand back and say the 1st Amendment does protect offensive expression, but it s not absolute, Treece said.

He believes the case could be kicked up to a higher court. People at the dog park were hoping he was right.

I think the disturbing thing is that there is a market for videos of torturing animals, said Jim Ballard. If we had videos of torturing children, would he have said the same thing?

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