Judge Hands Out Unusual But Fitting Sentence To Woman Who Left 35 Kittens Alone In The Cold
Sep 05, 2022 by apost team
Before retiring in 2019, Michael Cicconetti served on the bench in the sleepy town of Painesville, Ohio, for 25 years. But Cicconetti was no normal small-town judge. Throughout his decades-long career, the Painesville native gained a nationwide reputation for handing out unusual sentences. The judge would offer some first-time, non-violent offenders a choice: they could serve jail time or undergo one of Cicconetti’s creative and unorthodox punishments.
In one of the judge’s most famous cases, he ordered a woman to spend a night in the woods in 2005, as ABC News reported. The woman, Michelle M. Murray, had abandoned 35 kittens in two parks in Ohio, and after spending a night out in the cold, nine of the cats died while many others suffered from upper respiratory infections.
"How would you like to be dumped off at a metro park late at night, spend the night listening to the coyotes ... listening to the raccoons around you in the dark night, and sit out there in the cold not knowing where you're going to get your next meal, not knowing when you are going to be rescued?" Cicconetti asked the defendant, according to ABC News.
Cicconetti gave Murray a choice between 90 days in jail for abandoning the kittens, or a night in the woods, 14 days of jail, 15 days of house arrest, a $3,200 donation to the Humane Society and a $500 donation to the rangers who found the kittens.
Murray, who chose the latter option, got a taste of her own medicine the day before Thanksgiving. ABC News reported that a park ranger led Murray to a remote location in the woods.
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Cicconetti didn’t come up with his unusual sentences to be vindictive or cruel. In fact, he did it to help first-time offenders get back on the right track.
“When you talk about state prisons and federal prisons, their problem started way back here with my court, with municipal courts, with the minor offenses. Most people don’t start out with a felony case,” Cicconetti told ABC News. “It starts small, and it gets bigger, so my whole train of thought here is that we have to stop them or prevent them — that conduct — from going further at the beginning stages. They get in jail. They get smarter criminally, and as they get smarter criminally, the offenses become greater.”
There’s a long list of Cicconetti’s most unusual and heavily publicized sentences on Wikipedia and in the media. The judge asked a babysitter who hit a boy with a belt to read through articles about the consequences of child abuse, followed by a discussion about the issue in front of the victim’s mother and other courtroom attendees. And after a man called a group of police officers “pigs,” he was ordered to stand on a street corner accompanied by a 350-pound pig with a sign that read, “This is not a police officer.”
Cicconetti was convinced that these unusual sentences worked.
In a 2017 interview with Attorney At Law Magazine, Cicconetti recalled one of his most effective sentences, which involved a domestic dispute between a mother and her 18-year-old son. The son, who had berated his mom, threw her to the floor after she backhanded him. Instead of going to jail, an option that Cicconetti left open, the boy opted to wash his mouth out and swallow soap. (Cicconetti added that the soap was non-toxic and that he had tried it personally.)
“He was placed on probation, with his mom appointed as his probation officer and given a list of weekly chores and no further disrespect to his mom who was to report any violations to me,” Cicconetti said of the case. “I ran into mom a couple years later … and was delighted the sentence turned her son around who was successfully employed, continued to help her, and has never violated the law since.”
Earlier, in 2005, Cicconetti claimed that he could remember just two people who had reoffended after enduring one of his unusual punishments.
“People often ask, ‘Are these creative sentences really effective?’ My response is ‘Most of the time.’ I say that because there have been hundreds of alternative or creative sentences that do not receive media attention,” Cicconetti told Attorney At Law Magazine in 2017. “These are not headline grabbing sentences but nonetheless designed to fit the crime.”
According to the News-Herald, Cicconetti retired in 2019. Although his last day in court didn’t end with any unusual sentences, he did get to dismiss court with a giant gavel — a gift he received on his first day on the bench. “The court is hereby adjourned,” Cicconetti said, dismissing the court for his final time.
While Cicconetti no doubt has his critics, his colleagues have kind words for his courtroom style and character. “One of the greatest parts about how he rules from the bench is — and I’ve been involved in this countless times — he will hand down a decision, generally in the criminal field, where the victim feels justified and compensated and the defendant feels heard and understood,” said acting judge Paul Malchesky. “The most amazing thing is you’ll hear both individuals, the victim and the defendant, both thank the judge.
What do you think of Cicconetti's approach to sentencing? Do you think his unusual punishments would work in your community? Let us know — and be sure to pass this story on to others.