Protest over Mesa cat mutilations, killings

Lenetta Leger, who lives near the Marlborough Mesa neighborhood off of Pecos Avenue, pickets on Tuesday at Pecos and Alma School Road with 11 other residents who believe a neighbor is responsible for the disappearance of about 40 cats from the neighborhood, and are upset that authorities are not pursuing animal cruelty and abuse charges.[Mike Sakal/Tribune]

Residents in Mesa’s Marlborough neighborhood are outraged over the reduction in charges against a man they believe is responsible for the disappearance and mutilation of about 40 cats.

So on Tuesday, 12 residents, many of whom have had cats go missing — or turn up dead — in the past few months, picketed with signs containing the picture of Scott Graham, 39, who was arrested Sept. 3 in connection to the cat killings and mutilations. Their protest was sparked by authorities’ decision to reduce the charges Graham was facing.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office said there is not enough evidence to pursue animal cruelty and abuse-related charges, and returned the case to Mesa Police. On Monday, police said they would only be pursuing misdemeanor theft charges at this time.

The residents fear that the problem will continue, or worse: The person responsible for the acts against the cats will progress to hurting something else, possibly small children.

The residents, who said that cats have been disappearing or been found dead in the neighborhood for three to five years, also hope to stage a larger protest, “Engage the Outrage!” from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday at the entrance of the Marlborough Mesa neighborhood at Alma School Road and Pecos Avenue.

Graham lives in the neighborhood and owns a rental property there.

Two residents had caught Graham on video surveillance, including one of him taking a cat off the roof of a car before leaving with it and tossing it out the window of his vehicle when he realized he was being followed, police have said. When police caught up with Graham, they discovered cat hair inside his car, which smelled like animal carcasses, according to police.

Graham told police at the time of his arrest earlier this month that he took about 40 cats, but only “played with them.”

Among the protesters Tuesday was John Smith, who lives in the 1000 block of Plata with his wife, Trisha, across the street from where Graham lives.

Two of the Smiths’ calico cats, Little Bit and Snickers, went missing in April and December, respectively. They were never found.

“It was very unlikely for them to disappear and not come back in the morning,” Smith said. “When we moved into the neighborhood, we noticed flyers of missing cats on street signs and utility poles throughout the neighborhood. We knew it was a problem ... We also know that the language in the animal cruelty and abuse laws here are pretty vague and it makes it harder to prosecute those responsible.”

Another protester, Lenetta Leger, who lives near the neighborhood, said her family does not have closure. Pat, their 12-year-old long-haired white cat, went missing in May.

The cat not only was the family pet, but also the habilitation cat for Leger’s 25-year-old son, Phillip, who suffers from severe cerebral palsy.

“Not only is Pat missed by our family, but he’s especially missed by Phillip,” Leger said. “That cat was his best friend. When we called him to come in that night, and he didn’t come, we knew something was wrong. You can’t just say they’re animals; they’re family members.”

Leger said that whether it’s Graham or someone else, the person responsible should be put in jail or in a mental institution. “We don’t think he’s just going to stop at animals; we’re afraid he’ll go on to something else,” she said.

Dr. Erin Nelson, a forensic psychologist in Scottsdale who has researched similar cases, told the Tribune on Tuesday, “While it is true that some sociopaths have a history of engaging in cruelty to animals, it is not true that everyone who mutilates cats goes on to become a serial killer."

Mesa police could not be reached for comment.

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