BLOOMINGTON — A man who fired a gun at his girlfriend as she ran naked down the driveway and who starved more than 70 animals in what a judge called “a house of horrors” was sentenced Thursday to 30 months in prison.
Curtis Cleary, 30, pleaded guilty in April to aggravated discharge of a firearm and aggravated animal cruelty. The charges stem from a Nov. 4 domestic dispute at his rural Lexington home.
Police investigating the woman’s complaint that Cleary fired a gun faced a grisly and disturbing scene when they went to the home, according to testimony Thursday at Cleary’s sentencing hearing.
The house “was one of the worst I’ve ever seen,” said McLean County sheriff’s Detective Dave Fritts.
Inside the basement of the house were several dead dogs, and two rooms in a barn had more than 60 cats in various stages of decomposition, said the officer, noting that it was impossible to count the number of animals. “There was nothing but a pile of fur and small bones,” he said.
Judge Robert Freitag told Cleary he was sentencing him for two separate offenses, both serious for different reasons. On the crime involving the woman, the judge said “her distress was such that she ran from you and your violence without taking time to dress herself.”
The Cleary home was “a house of horror for these animals” who relied on Cleary for care, said the judge.
Assistant State’s Attorney Kelly Harms asked for the maximum sentence of three years, telling Freitag that Cleary was on bond for a driving –related offense when the incident occurred. The prosecutor said Cleary’s claim that others were caring for the animals was not credible.
After the hearing, Harms said “I think prison was most definitely appropriate. We have to speak for the animals and the victim in this case.”
In a statement to the judge, Cleary apologized for his conduct.
“I have suffered from problems with alcohol and depression for many years,” said Cleary, adding that he has a support system in place to help stay sober. He said he does not possess any animals or a vehicle.
Defense lawyer Chris Gramm argued Cleary deserved probation. The lawyer suggested “the conduct regarding the animals was not something he was alone in. The animals were brought to the residence by various people and in various stages of health.”
About 20 animal rights supporters who attended the hearing disputed Cleary’s claim that he was not responsible for the animals — many of the animals were left in his care by his late girlfriend Catherine Hedges, who operated an animal shelter on the property.
The prison sentence drew tears and praise from the activists, including Tobein Tegard, who owns an animal rescue shelter in Gridley.
“We all feel he should have received the maximum but we’re very relieved he didn’t get probation,” said Tegard.