LOWELL -- After a three-day trial and 90 minutes of deliberations, a jury found Margot Nickerson-Malpher not guilty of 18 counts of animal cruelty for a 2011 incident where Tewksbury police and MSPCA rescued her 15 dogs and three cats from a sweltering van.
"I can't believe it," the 73-year-old Littleton woman said moments after the verdict was read Friday in Lowell District Court.
Nickerson-Malpher admitted she thought some of the jurors might resent her after learning that all of her animals suffered from heat stroke on June 7, 2011, three of her dogs needed critical medical attention and one died.
But defense attorney Thomas Mixon told the jury in his closing argument that his client didn't intend to hurt her animals. He described it as a "perfect storm" of circumstances where his client had loaded up all her animals in the back of her van and was making the long drive from Maine to Virginia, stopping at the Motel 6 in Tewksbury to rest.
When she left Maine the night before the weather was cool, but when she pulled into the Motel 6 parking lot and rented a room, the temperature began to soar.
For the next five hours, Nickerson-Malpher kept her animals in her van without water with the windows only partially open so none of her pets would escape. As the outside temperature rose to the mid-80 degrees, the temperature inside the van was more than 100 degrees.
Nickerson-Malpher realized there was a problem when one of her dogs, Cheesy, collapsed. That dog would die. The police were called when a motel employee saw Nickerson-Malpher carry what appeared to be a dead dog to her room. Nickerson-Malpher testified she thought the dog was sleeping and she was trying to carry the dog to her air conditioned room.
While she was able to carry some of her dogs into her room, when police and MSPCA officials arrived they found all the animals were suffering from degrees of heat stroke, three were in serious condition.
All the animals, except one, recovered. Nickerson-Malpher signed over ownership of all her animals to the MSPCA to be adopted.
In court after the verdict, Nickerson-Malpher, who was prohibited from having pets before the trial, said she intends to have animals again.
"I intend to still have my pets, but I may limit the number of them," she said. She may have fewer animals not because of her experience in this criminal case but because she is getting older and she isn't physically able to care for so many animals.
But she added, "If God sends me a little animal I will keep it until I can adopt it out."
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