ELLISVILLE, Miss. (WDAM) - Evidently, Miranda Lynn Kittrell was not expecting to be led from the Jones County Justice Court in handcuffs Thursday afternoon.
Dressed in a black Nike pullover and blue jeans, sunglasses pulled back into her blonde hair, Kittrell seemed to have taken a somewhat casual approach to a potential life-altering proceeding, one that could have ended with a prison sentence of 19 years and a $38,000 fine.
But-a-hand-on-the-hip stance wavered when interim Jones County Justice Noel Rogers denied Kittrell’s request for a continuance and the arms fell slack to the podium when she heard she would be going to prison.
Kittrell, charged with an amended 38 counts of animal cruelty, was sentenced to 114 months with six to serve.
Rogers also imposed a fine of $3,800 and 380 hours of community service and ordered a $3,500 psychological evaluation.
Finally, Rogers banned Kittrell from owning or residing with any domesticated animal for a 15-year period.
“This is the part of the job that I hate,” Rogers said. "But the amended statue allows for six months per charge, so that could be up to 228 months, and that is 19 years. The amended law allows up to a $1,000 fine for every count, so that could be $38,000.
“This statute has got a lot of teeth in it.”
Kittrell, 37, is believed to be the first person sentenced under stricter animal abuse legislation that took effect July 1 in Mississippi.
Under the former law, a person could only be charged with one count of abuse, no matter if one animal or multiple animals were involved. The new legislation allows a person to be charged for every animal involved.
This summer, dozens of dogs in various stages of dehydration and malnourishment were rescued from a property in south Jones County owned by Kittrell.
Jones County Sheriff Office Investigator J.D. Carter and Southern Pines Animal Shelter Executive Director Ginny Sims testified to arriving at the property on Aug. 21 and being greeted by a hellish landscape of disease, famine, pestilence and death.
“It was terrible,” Carter said. "I’m no professional, but even I could tell that they were being neglected.
“Some of the neighbors came by, and when they found out what we were doing, they said, ‘Thank God.’”
Dogs were found inside metal cages, metal sheds and a metal trailer, unable to escape Mississippi’s summer heat. The property had electricity, but there were no fans, no air conditioning.
The only water came from the sky. That utility had been turned off.
Testimony said one do had been found in reasonable condition, knocking one charge off her initial 39-charge pile.
But Rogers nearly added five dogs found dead on the property, which would have bumped the cruelty stack to 43
Kittrell’s mother, Loretta Pierce, testified that her daughter had once lived on the property, but couldn’t remember when. She also testified that family relations were supposed to be overseeing the property and the animals.
But Pierce could not recall the last time Kittrell herself had visited.
“Somebody else was supposed to be taking care of this,” Pierce said. “I don’t condone what she’s done, but she did try.”
But Rogers, Hart and Jones County Prosecutor Brad Thompson were not swayed by Kittrell’s efforts, which included a pair of previous visits to Justice Court involving animal abuse charges.
“My thoughts?” Hart was asked. “This is the third time. Something’s got to be done.”
In fact, Kittrell found herself in trouble from the get-go.
Rogers was informed that two more charges had been filed. The first, a speeding ticket for 95 miles per hour in a 65-mil-per-hour zone led to a $235 fine.
The court was then informed that Kittrell had stopped paying on a court-ordered fine from a previous visit to Justice Court.
Rogers fined her $325 for contempt and ordered her to pay off the $437.50 balance on the old fine.
Before Kittrell’s hearing on the animal cruelty charges had begun, she found herself awash in $997.50 in fines.
Then when Thomspon informed the court that the state was ready to proceed, Kittrell informed the court she had no attorney and wanted a public defender appointed.
But apparently, Kittrell had been a no-show the previous week for a hearing before Rogers that would have addressed that issue and provided an attorney.
Instead, Rogers denied the request for the continuance and Kittrell was left to fend for herself.
That ended some 40 minutes later with both Pierce and Kittrell in a teary-eyed embrace in the middle aisle as court officials stood close by, handcuffs at the ready.
“The State is pleased with it,” Thompson said. "This wasn’t her first time before this court, but we weren’t trying to punish her as we were to send a message that this sort of situation is unacceptable.
“I think the Legislature made the right call on this. It was a wise amendment.”