A San Jose, California, man was sentenced to 16 years in jail Friday for killing 21 cats and sexually abusing a dead one, a bittersweet outcome for those whose pets began disappearing almost two years ago.
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Sharon A. Chatman credited Robert Roy Farmer, 26, for twice the 646 days he already has served since his arrest for crimes that shocked the Cambrian Park community where most of the cats were abducted.
Farmer will not have to register as a sex offender when he is eventually released, a proposed sentencing condition that had become a point of contention between his attorney Wesley Schroeder and Deputy District Attorney Alexandra Ellis.
Schroeder had argued that a test performed by a San Jose Animal Services and Care veterinarian showed no signs of a cat having been sexually assaulted by Farmer. But the same veterinarian testified during a pre-sentencing hearing in May that the possibility couldn’t be eliminated because other physical exams showed otherwise and “because limited literature in this field says there may be no injuries at all on an animal.”
Before the sentencing, Schroeder read a letter written by Farmer, in which he said “it feels like another man committed these crimes, but I know it was me.”
“It’s so hard to grasp I did this,” Farmer wrote, adding that he grew up with cats and horses. “I stole a member of their family. The fact that I was out of my mind was no excuse.”
Ellis dismissed the letter as “manipulation” that contradicts his previous interviews with police, written by a disturbed individual with no hope for rehabilitation. Because of Farmer’s antisocial personality disorder diagnosis by a court doctor, she urged the judge to consider mental health reports that stated he had a “profound lack of empathy and remorse” for his crimes and “significant anger” toward his family. The doctor also considered him a possible danger to the community, with a prognosis for recovery that was “poor, with potential escalation to higher life forms in the future.”
The bizarre saga unfolded in September 2015 when cats began mysteriously disappearing from the Cambrian Park neighborhood in San Jose. Stories started to spread among neighbors about a man who had tried luring two cats into a backpack. One cat escaped and was later treated by a veterinarian for a “bite that was not an animal bite, as well as the bleeding head injury,” Cambrian resident David Stine said at the time.
Several cats subsequently turned up dead, including two discovered in a dumpster. And Cambrian resident Janice McKimmie’s 15-year-old cat Beardsly was found dead several miles away wrapped in plastic inside a shoebox with his collar missing and rocks placed on the lid. Stine was surprised when McKimmie said her cat went missing the same morning as his 16-year-old orange tabby cat Chablis, who still has not been seen to this day.
Video footage from Miriam Petrova’s security camera later that week showed a young man grabbing a 17-year-old orange tabby cat named GoGo from Petrova’s front porch. Neighbors soon after helped San Jose police identify Farmer as the man in the video, though no trace of GoGo was ever found.
Farmer, the son of a retired San Jose Police Department captain, was found the morning of Oct. 8, 2015 at a Home Depot parking lot near Hillsdale and Leigh avenues. He was sleeping inside his car with a dead cat curled up in the center console when police officers apprehended him. Chunks of fur and streaks of blood covered the interior of Farmer’s vehicle, where police also found a backpack with a pair of fur-covered gloves and a hunting knife in a sheath.
Farmer was originally charged with three felony counts of animal cruelty, one count of attempted animal cruelty, and one misdemeanor count each of battery and being under the influence. Subsequent DNA tests on blood, fur and other items found in Farmer’s car eventually shot that number up to 21 charges of felony animal cruelty–one for each of his feline victims.
Family members and others who knew Farmer told police they were often terrified around him. An elderly woman who let Farmer stay with her and her grandson shortly before his arrest recounted him tying up the back legs of her cat Angel and smacking it against a wall. One time she said Farmer hit her grandson in the face, unprovoked, and on another occasion he shot the same boy in the leg with a pellet gun. Her grandson also told her that Farmer had commented once about “what it would feel like to kill a person.”
The case took a shocking twist when a necropsy report from Animal Services found signs of sexual abuse on the orange female tabby cat inside the car, including dilated genitals. Crime laboratory reports also stated a match was discovered between Farmer and DNA found under claw clippings. Schroeder contested the prosecution’s argument that the cat was sexually abused.
The conflicting accounts triggered a debate about whether Farmer should be required to register as a sex offender when someday released from prison. Ellis argued that Farmer’s molestation of the dead cat was sexually motivated but Schroeder proffered other theories.
“Doing something to the body in that area doesn’t necessarily indicate sexual motivation,” Schroeder said, adding that Farmer’s methamphetamine use at the time could have contributed to his behavior. Torture was another possibility that Schroeder also mentioned but Ellis said that wasn’t possible.
“You can’t torture a dead cat,” she said.
“If there was an animal cruelty registry then Mr. Farmer would be the perfect picture for that,” Chatman said. But the judge declined to require Farmer to register as a sex offender upon release, stating that Ellis’ arguments “did not meet that burden” for such an order.
“We don’t have experts to form an opinion that similar conduct was sexually motivated,” Chatman told Ellis. “The entire veterinary community doesn’t study it and so it’s not a piece of evidence I can put on your side of the scale.”
But the judge ordered him to stay away from cats for 10 years after his release and away from the 95124 Cambrian Park ZIP code area.
Throngs of people crowded outside the courtroom in anticipation of the long-awaited sentencing.
Many of the owners whose cats fell victim to Farmer read statements in the courtroom expressing their grief and outrage before he was sentenced. Farmer listened with his back turned to the crowd.
Petrova wept as she told onlookers how “our sweet GoGo” would cuddle in bed with her children and mourned the fact that “we didn’t have the chance to say a proper goodbye.”
“It’s still painful to come home knowing GoGo isn’t waiting for us,” Petrova said. “Now the only image burned in our minds is GoGo running for his life” on camera as Farmer chased after him.
“GoGo never hurt anybody,” she added, before addressing Farmer directly: “And for you, Robert Farmer–what have you done to GoGo? Where is he?”
Although she had hoped Farmer would have to register as a sex offender, Petrova said she’s “relieved” that the ordeal is finally over.
“When I spoke up to (Farmer), I felt relieved,” she said. “It’ll be not closure completely, but partially.”