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Terry Cullen in Milwaukee WI

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Posted by: wireptile at Sat Apr 13 12:42:18 2013  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by wireptile ]  
   

After national headlines and nearly three years of litigation, the sensational prosecution of a Milwaukee reptile expert ended Friday with two noncriminal citations.

Terry Cullen met all the conditions of an agreement announced in November, and so ended his long legal battle with some fines and a fraction of the restitution sought by the woman who started the case.

Afterward, however, he hardly seemed jubilant.

"My life was destroyed," Cullen, 63, said in a courthouse hallway. "My health, my finances, my reputation. I was not guilty of anything.

"This was a travesty on every level, and I'd very much like to do what I can to get the truth out," he said, noting that he's been "cooperating vigorously" with "higher authorities" he wouldn't name.

"This was visited on me by people who were as nefarious as people can be."

The case began in 2010, when an Illinois woman, Jennifer Rushing, 26, told police Cullen had sexually assaulted her while she was at his home as part of an interview for an internship with his wildlife rescue operation.

Investigating Rushing's complaint led police to search Cullen's Milwaukee properties and the resulting seizure of hundreds of his animals and charges of both sexual assault and mistreatment and improper storage of the wildlife. News video of rare reptiles being removed was shown around the country.

Cullen pleaded not guilty to the charges and disputed suggestions he had abused the animals. The case began its long, convoluted history.

Many months into the case, Cullen's defense attorneys convinced prosecutors that Rushing had major credibility problems, and the state last fall agreed to a deferred prosecution deal. Cullen agreed to have a sex offender evaluation, donate $2,500 to two area animal groups and perform 25 hours of community service.

In court Friday, Assistant District Attorney Sarah Lewis said the psychologist who evaluated Cullen found he was a low risk and did not recommend any treatment. She also confirmed Cullen had met the other conditions of the agreement.

Lewis dismissed a dozen charges related to the storage of various reptiles and other wildlife and vacated his November plea to a misdemeanor sexual assault charge. Instead, Cullen pleaded no contest to the two county ordinance violations, battery and disorderly conduct.

Circuit Judge David Borowski imposed $250 fines for each citation and ordered Cullen to pay $344 in restitution, less than 10% of the more than $5,000 Rushing had sought for expenses, such as several nights at the Hyatt in Milwaukee with room service meals, movies and valet parking.

Rushing did not attend Friday's hearing.

Cullen may yet return to court on one remaining issue - the return or relocation of some of the reptiles that were seized and moved to various zoos and placed with Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission. Cullen had argued earlier that many of the exotic reptiles were not being cared for properly in the other environments.

Cullen also had his own ordinary pets. His attorneys say his beloved dogs Pogo and Kong were shot and killed by Milwaukee police when they entered Cullen's house because Rushing had said the animals were wolves. He breaks up when describing his sorrow about losing the dogs.

In a series of YouTube videos taken in 2010 but not posted until last fall, Cullen talks about his work in reptile rescue, feeds rats to a crocodile and in one segment discusses the raid on his properties and his arrest.

"There's nothing worse than seeing yourself demonized over things you were taking pride in doing," he says in the video.
Reptile expert ends three-year case with noncriminal citations


   

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