On the third day of the trial, Dauphiné took the witness stand. She testified that the security-camera footage showed her cleaning up cat food--not delivering poison. "I put my hand down there and picked up some food and put it in a plastic bag that I had, and then I went into the building and threw it in the garbage," she told the judge. Dauphiné claimed she had removed cat food on other occasions to avoid attracting rats.
Under cross-examination, Chambers asked Dauphiné about an article she had published in the journal the Wildlife Professional titled "Pick One: Outdoor Cats or Conservation."
chambers: "And in talking about that issue, cat predation, do you remember writing, 'Where is the outrage over such slaughter?' "
dauphiné: "That's--yeah, those were the editor's words, not mine."
chambers: "Those are not your words?"
dauphiné: "Definitely not."
chambers: "Okay, I'd like to read to you, in the same article, the final paragraph, and tell me if these are not your words. 'More of us in the wildlife profession need to stand up and add our voices to the cause. We need strong leadership coupled with proactive policies and well-enforced laws that recognize cats as invasive species, impose fines on owners who . . . refuse to control their pets, require mandatory sterilizations of pets, prohibit feral-cat colonies and feeding stations, especially on public land, and acknowledge the legitimate role of euthanasia when necessary. Such measures will go a long way towards protecting the native wildlife we cherish so much.' Are those your words?"
dauphiné: "It's interesting [what] you keep picking. I wrote--I would say I wrote the majority of that article, but you keep picking the things that the editor inserted at the last minute."
Peter Marra of the Migratory Bird Center says Dauphiné didn't know she would be testifying until minutes before she was called. He blames Martin for failing to prepare her. Martin did not comment.
After three days of testimony from ten witnesses, Judge Morrison found Dauphiné guilty of attempted animal cruelty. The judge said her actions in the security-camera footage were "far more consistent with placing something [on the cat food] than cleaning the area."
The judge said the explanation Dauphiné provided on the witness stand "just [didn't] have the ring of truth." He added that her "unwillingness to own up to her own professional writings as her own undermined her credibility."
Dauphiné's supporters were stunned; some believed she was framed. Pamela Jo Hatley, who collaborated on an anti-TNR paper with Dauphiné, says feral-cat activists may have conspired against Dauphiné.
Dauphiné immediately resigned from the Migratory Bird Center.
At a sentencing hearing on December 14, Judge Morrison declined to send Dauphiné to jail. "Her career, if not over, is in grave jeopardy and will certainly never be what it was before," Morrison said.
He ordered Dauphiné to perform 120 hours of community service, serve one year of probation, and pay $100. Dauphiné was to have no "intentional or purposeful contact with cats" while completing her community service.
Morrison gave Dauphiné a moment to speak. Her jaw muscles flickered as she clenched her teeth. Nodding to the men and women in the gallery, she said she was grateful to her many supporters. "I've also felt very deeply ashamed to have disappointed them," Dauphiné said in a quivering voice. "I know that I have an enormous task in front of me to rebuild their esteem."
On January 13, Dauphiné appealed the verdict.
While the Washington Humane Society called the judge's ruling a victory, some residents of Athens were disappointed that Dauphiné wasn't going to jail. Roger Keeney worries that she may return to her house in Athens, which she still owns. The Athens Area Humane Society, meanwhile, has become a "no kill" shelter that doesn't euthanize cats except for medical reasons.
By January, Dauphiné was carrying boxes out of the Park Square apartments, Frances Sterling says. Dauphiné has left the Washington area but has told friends not to disclose her whereabouts, out of concern for her safety.
For Jolson and Mama--the cats at the center of the controversy--life has gotten more complicated. Shortly after the verdict, Park Square's management company told Sterling she was no longer allowed to feed the cats on their grounds. A neighbor called the police at least twice to complain about Sterling's cat-feeding and even used a cell phone to make a video of Sterling putting food out. Another neighbor told her to "watch her back," Sterling says.
Sterling contacted a lawyer and now keeps records of all cat-related disputes.
The Washington Humane Society recently fielded a complaint that poison had again appeared on cat food near the Park Square apartments. When Officer D'Eramo investigated, he was unable to find any poison, and Sterling hasn't noticed any new poison. Citing Humane Society policy, D'Eramo declines to name the person who made the complaint.
Sterling now feeds Jolson and Mama near a bench on the lawn of a neighboring building. She feels confident they'll be safe there: "The only thing I'm worried about is them getting old."
This article appears in the April 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.