The Iowa farmer got the first call from his wife about 4:45 a.m., reporting that their mink were running all over the highway.
Keith Conrad got into his truck and couldn’t comprehend the carnage he found — dozens of mink turned into road kill, some with their backs broken but still alive. Hundreds more were running amok.
The 500 mink hadn’t escaped but had been freed by a pair of animal rights activists during a months-long, multistate campaign against the fur industry. By the day’s end, about 130 had died either on the highway or from heatstroke.
Other farms have similar stories of the death and loss caused by the scheme in 2013.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Larry Burns sentenced one of the vandals, Nicole Kissane, to 21 months in prison — three months longer than what prosecutors had recommended.
The San Diego federal judge months earlier had rejected a plea deal that would have obligated him to sentence her to six months, a term he said was unjust considering the crime was a “calculated, premeditated campaign of terror.”
Her boyfriend and co-defendant, Joseph Buddenberg, was sentenced last year to 24 months in a plea deal.
The crimes began July 15, 2013, when the Oakland pair vandalized Furs by Graf, a store in the Kearny Mesa community of San Diego. They painted words such as “murderer” on the store, destroyed the windows with etching chemicals, sprayed acid into the shop and put glue in the door locks.
They also went to the Graf family homes in La Mesa and Spring Valley, spraying similar phrases on their houses and vehicles and damaging the properties with paint stripper and acid.
From there Kissane and Buddenberg went to several states and wreaked havoc where they went: releasing a bobcat from a farm and vandalizing a Montana police chief’s vehicle; releasing mink from farms in Idaho, Minnesota, Iowa, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin; and vandalizing animal-related businesses in the Bay Area, according to the complaint.
In all, the pair was accused of releasing some 5,700 mink — many of which were killed as they ran toward nearby roads, apparently drawn to the vehicle lights and traffic sounds because of similarities to how mink are fed in captivity.
“They didn’t have a chance,” Cindy Moyle of the Moyle Mink Ranch in Burley, Idaho, wrote in a letter to the judge. She said her family’s farm has been on the forefront of raising mink in a humane way.
The pair publicized their exploits on animal extremist websites, using public computers so as not to leave a trace. They also took care to avoid using phones and to use only cash to make it harder for law enforcement to track them, authorities said.
Kissane and Buddenberg pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act in February. In addition to their prison sentences, the pair must pay $423,477 in restitution.
Kissane declined to make a statement at Tuesday’s hearing.
Davis writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune