A former employee of both the Fairfax County Animal Shelter and Family Pet Cremations in Chantilly has pleaded guilty in Hampshire County, W.Va., to unlawfully disposing of animal remains. He is Ronald Lee Henry Jr., 38, of 611 Allegheny Circle in Woodstock.
HENRY WORKED full time for the shelter and part time for the cremation facility. All was well until last December and January, when more than 4,000 pounds of animal carcasses — many from Fairfax County — were illegally dumped in West Virginia.
At that time, the shelter contracted with Family Pet Cremations to dispose of their animals, and animals originating from Fairfax County were found at two sites.
Around Christmastime 2005, a pile of animal carcasses was discovered in the George Washington National Forest in Hardy County, W.Va., by a visitor to the forest. It contained 50-60 animals — dogs and cats, plus wildlife such as deer, squirrels and possums. And evidence including I.D. numbers and packaging indicated they were all placed there at the same time.
Then in late January, the scenario was repeated on a larger scale in a forested area near Capon Bridge, in Hampshire County, W.Va. This time, more than 250 dead animals — again, many from Fairfax County — were found in a heap in a subdivision with new roads under development. A local resident discovered them on private land.
Members of the Hampshire County Sheriff's Department, the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources (DNR) Law Enforcement Section and Fairfax County police all began investigating. And the trail led to Henry and two other men — Jason Scott Light, 21, and Shane Douglas Richmond, 27, both of Capon Bridge — whom he'd hired to help him dispose of the animals.
Meanwhile, an attorney representing Family Pet Cremations offered an explanation for what happened. He said the crematorium's incinerator was out of service for awhile, so the business paid Henry to take the animal remains to a farm in Winchester and bury them there properly.
However, instead of doing so, he and the other two men drove the carcasses to West Virginia and tossed them in a huge heap above ground.
Hampshire County charged each man with one count of creating an open dump and one count of unlawful disposal of litter. They're misdemeanors but, in West Virginia, these offenses each carry penalties of up to a year in jail and as much as a $25,000 fine.
On May 8, the Hampshire County grand jury indicted all three men. Then on Oct. 5, in that county's circuit court, both Richmond and Light pleaded guilty before Judge Donald H. Cookman and both were sentenced to probation.
Henry was slated for a jury trial in late October but, instead, on Oct. 12 before the same judge, he entered an Alford plea of guilt to unlawful disposal of litter. By doing so, he didn't directly admit guilt, but admitted that enough evidence exists to convict him.
However, his sentencing was deferred and he was allowed to remain free on bond. That's because his attorney, Lawrence Sherman Jr., told the court that Henry was recently indicted in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia, in Harrisonburg.
And interestingly enough, he was indicted for an animal-dumping offense in another national forest. Sherman further told the judge that he anticipates his client will also be indicted by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia. Henry is scheduled to return to Hampshire County Circuit Court on Dec. 8 for a status report to the judge.