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Charges upgraded for teens accused of beheading puppies

Published: Mar. 10, 2015 at 8:42 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 9, 2015 at 8:42 PM CDT
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WILCOX CO., AL (WSFA) - The charges against two Wilcox County teenagers, who are accused of beheading three stray puppies with a machete and posting video of it on social media, have been upgraded.

Ashley Johnston, 18, and his 17-year-old friend are now each charged with one count of aggravated cruelty to animals and one count of cruelty to a dog or cat in the first degree (torture). Both are Class C Felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in prison. The identity of the juvenile hasn't been released due to his age.

Michael Jackson is the District Attorney for Alabama's 4th Judicial Circuit, which includes Wilcox County. He says the reason the teens no longer face misdemeanor animal cruelty charges is due to the horrific nature of the crime. His office has also filed a petition to charge the 17-year-old suspect as an adult.

"There is no excuse for killing three puppies and cutting their heads off. It's sad and outrageous," Jackson said. "We felt like given the horrific nature of these crimes, that these charges needed to be felonies."

Wilcox County Sheriff Earnest Evans said the initial investigation indicates Johnston used his cell phone to record the 17-year-old throwing the puppies in the air and killing them with a machete at a home on Highway 10 West near Camden. The incident happened last week. 

"It would be fair to say the 18-year-old confessed. He kind of owned it, took the photos, and he actually didn't like it. The pictures were on social media for about 15 seconds," Evans said.

The sheriff said Johnston seemed remorseful and emotional during his confession to an investigator.

The district attorney says a caller alerted police after seeing the video on Snapchat.

Snapchat automatically deletes postings after they are viewed. Evans said investigators haven't seen the posting but have spoken to others who did. The video quickly made its way around their school.

"A lot of students saw this," Jackson said. 

The sheriff said he hasn't seen a case like this in his 31 years in law enforcement.

"From the information that I have so far, this is just two kids being stupid," Evans said when asked about a possible motive in the case.

Dr. George Wood, a veterinarian at the Selma Animal Hospital, called the case a "travesty" and hopes it will not only bring attention to abused and unwanted animals but also encourage communities to step up and help their local shelters and rescue groups.

"My prayer is that this heightened awareness will generate enough of an uproar in the community so that they might look for ways in order to help those animals that aren't taken care of properly," he said.

The district attorney says both teens were rearrested on their new charges Wednesday. The teenagers are expected to make separate court appearances in Wilcox County in the next few days.

"People are just shocked that anybody would do this to puppies and of course we're going to make sure justice is done," Jackson added.

Copyright 2015 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved. The AP contributed to this report.