Former animal rescue president gets 15 months in prison; granted appellate bond

The former pit bull rescue president acquitted of killing five dogs but destroying the home where she kept them was sentenced to 15 months in prison during a hearing Wednesday.
Judge Peter McShane gave Heidi Lueders five years suspended after 15 months, followed by five years of probation. McShane first heard from both sides, including the defendant. Lueders tearfully blamed her actions on a heroin addiction that took over her life.
"People privately ask me what happened. I tell them I cannot remember because I was using that large a quantity of drugs on a daily basis," Lueders said. "I am sorry for the destruction of Celly's home. I am sorry for everything that happened, and I fully accept responsibility."
In November of 2018, Fairfield police found the home Lueders was renting from Celly Roberts filled with garbage, feces, and drug paraphernalia along with the skeletons of five dogs locked in cages. Lueders was arrested and charged with five counts of felony animal cruelty along with criminal damage to property. She was accused of depriving the dogs of food and water, leading to their deaths. Lueders went on trial before McShane in February after opting for a bench trial rather than a jury trial. McShane found Lueders not guilty of animal cruelty at trial, but did consider the dogs' deaths at sentencing. He allowed the court-appointed animal advocate to address the court Wednesday.
"The state may not have proved that Ms. Lueders intentionally and maliciously killed these dogs, but she is irrefutably guilty of gross unforgivable negligence," said Ken Bernhard, of Cohen and Wolf law firm. "Your honor, I'm asking the court not to ignore these irrefutable facts in sentencing Ms. Lueders for having committed her crime of destruction of property. The events are explicitly related and the sentencing should reflect that connection."
"Heidi Lueders undoubtedly needs to be punished for her actions and the crime committed here," added Assistant State's Attorney Felicia Valentino.
Valentino didn't seek the maximum sentence of five years, but pushed for a period of jail time followed by probation so Lueders could begin to pay restitution to Roberts. Valentino said Roberts is owed $190,141. She previously gave an emotional statement to the judge about all that she lost.
Defense attorney Rob Serafinowicz argued Lueders should get probation and drug treatment.
"Ms. Lueders stands before the court with no prior criminal record. Ms. Lueders ran a dog rescue, and Ms. Lueders helped and saved many dogs over that course of time," Serafinowicz said. "It's pretty well documented that Ms. Lueders' issues arose when she developed her very, very, very serious drug problems."
Before handing down the sentence, McShane addressed Roberts, telling her, "I assure you, Ms. Roberts, your voice was heard. I want you to know your statement was incredibly moving." He also said what was done to her home wasn't damage, but "destruction" and "devastation."
McShane then turned to the defense and said in determining an appropriate punishment, he considered, not just the crime Lueders was convicted of, but her behavior after the verdict. McShane mentioned videos Lueders posted to social media that night.
"I saw her bragging about how she was found innocent. I thought I was pretty clear that she was not found innocent. She was found not guilty," McShane said. "There was no accepting of responsibility at that time, a time she was on social media telling the world about the trial. Not once did she offer any apologies or sympathies towards Ms. Roberts."
The judge also said the dogs' deaths impacted his decision to give Lueders jail time.
"Those dogs who died were left to rot, were left to decay, were left to diminish in their cages in which an animal should be able to find some comfort. It's horrific," McShane said.
After court, Bernhard told News 12, "I'm gratified Judge McShane did what he did. I think the sentence was very appropriate. 15 months is a lot of time in jail. She'll have time to reflect on it, and most importantly the public is witness to the fact that animal abuse is not acceptable."
Serafinowicz called the sentence "absolutely ridiculous" and said he would appeal her conviction. The judge granted his request for an appellate bond, setting it at $350,000. Serafinowicz initially expected Lueders to post it that afternoon but later said it wouldn't be until Friday. If and when that appeal is rejected will she return to prison to finish serving her time.