Convicted of criminal property damage, Lueders is to be sentenced on April 6, 2022
BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut––Former Bully Breed Rescue president Heidi Lueders, 34, was on February 9, 2022 acquitted by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Peter McShane of all five felony cruelty counts brought against her after the skeletal remains of five pit bulls in her care were on November 11, 2018 found dead in their cages in her rented home.
Lueders was, however, convicted of criminal damage to property for leaving the Fairfield home filled with refuse, feces, needles, and other drug paraphernalia, along with the dead pit bulls.
Destroyed house was foreclosed
Landlord Celly Roberts testified that the property damage required expenditure of more than $160,000 to clean up.
“She went on to testify the home was so trashed, a contractor told her she’d need to bring in a Hazmat company, rip up the floors, flush out the walls with chemicals, and redo the kitchen,” Channel 12 News reported. “Roberts said she was unable to afford the repairs, so the home went into foreclosure.”
Lueders, who since her 2018 arrest has spent just one hour in jail, still faces up to five years in prison on the property damage count.
Lueders is to return to court for sentencing on April 6, 2022.
Harsher verdict from former colleagues
And regardless of her acquittal in court on the cruelty charges, Lueders will likely face the much harsher verdict of her former colleagues in pit bull rescue for many years to come.
“As Lueders got into her car after the verdict, one animal advocate yelled to her that they will not let this go,” said Channel 12 reporter Marissa Alter.
Judge claimed insufficient proof
“I know there will be many that say, ‘Judge, you missed the point here. Five dogs died,” Judge McShane told the court. “And whether I suspect whatever happened in that house, whatever happened with those dogs, is not of concern. It’s what the state proved or failed to prove.
“As emotionally jarring as the facts and photos are,” McShane said, “the verdict must not be based on emotion. The tryer of fact or fact-finder must put emotion aside and decide the guilt or non-guilt based on the evidence or lack of evidence.”
Summarized Alter, “In rendering his verdict, McShane pointed to the testimony of a veterinary pathologist who said he couldn’t determine cause of death from the autopsies because only bones remained. But Dr. Herbert Van Kruiningen told the court he believed the dogs were starved and dehydrated to death after looking at vet records and the case history.”
“Could not tell how they died”
Said McShane, “The history says, ‘dogs possibly died from lack of food and water,'” McShane said. “Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not deal with possibilities.”
The turning point in the 10-day Lueders trial came, Connecticut Post crime reporter Daniel Tepfer indicated earlier, came when “Under cross examination, Van Kruiningen, admitted that from examining the dogs’ remains he could not tell how they died.
“Van Kruiningen, the now retired senior pathologist at the University of Connecticut, took the witness stand in the third day of the trial,” Tepfer recounted.
“Under questioning by Assistant State’s Attorney Felicia Valentino, Van Kruiningen testified that he examined the remains of the five dogs at his laboratory.”
“What we had was a bag of bones”
Explained Van Kruiningen, “What we had was a bag of bones for each of the five cases. We were only given bones and skin. We are not miracle workers. I can see that the dogs died in a cage but the question is how did they die in that cage — I can’t tell that.”
Continued Tepfer, “Based on his examination of the remains, Van Kruiningen said it appeared the dogs had been lying in their cages about a month after they had died. But he continued that the remains didn’t tell him much else.
“I think they died from lack of care, from lack of food and water,” Van Kruiningen testified.
“But under further questioning by the judge and Lueders’ lawyer, Robert Serafinowicz,” Tepfer added, “Van Kruiningen said he was basing his opinion on the information he was given from Fairfield police.
“A disease nobody knows about”
“On cross-examination, attorney Rob Serafinowicz got Van Kruiningen to admit he couldn’t say for certain how the dogs died,” Tepfer reiterated.
Asked Serafinowicz of Van Kruiningen, “You agree with me that it’s possible the dogs died of a disease that nobody knows about, correct?”
“That is true,” responded Van Kruiningen.
Continued Serafinowicz, “And you cannot remove such a conclusion beyond a medical certainty, correct?”
“Van Kruiningen agreed,” wrote Tepfer.
“McShane wanted to know if based on all the information reviewed,” Tepfer added, “Van Kruiningen could say with a reasonable degree of medical certainty the dogs’ cause of death.”
Repeated Van Kruiningen, “I believe that the dogs died from starvation or lack of water,” but without offering proof.
At this point the prosecution appears to have blundered by failing to point out that even if the five pit bulls had “died of a disease that nobody knows about,” Lueders had not sought veterinary care for them, which could in itself constitute criminal neglect.
“Deceased & decomposed”
Testified Fairfield animal control officer Paul Miller earlier in the trial, “All the dogs were deceased, and they were decomposed. And they weren’t just mildly decomposed. They were decomposed almost totally, so they’d been there in that situation for a while.”
Fairfield police detective Kevin McKeon, who photographed Lueders’ rented premises after executing a search warrant, presented visual documentation of the dogs’ skeletons and the surrounding heaps of garbage, dog feces, and drug paraphernalia.
Lueders received her hour of jail time on October 1, 2021 when Connecticut Superior Court Judge Tracy Waxman Dayton increased her bail bond by $250,000 for not complying with her conditions for release.
COVID-19 or falling down drunk?
Lueders, for example, had missed an August 2020 court date, claiming she suffered from COVID-19 symptoms. Ordered to submit proof of having had a COVID-19 test on that day, Lueders never did, Judge Dayton said.
Dayton “assumed the real reason Lueders was a no-show was because of an incident in Norwalk where Lueders had to be ‘picked up off the sidewalk’ and hospitalized for intoxication,” summarized Channel 12.
Said Dayton, “There are only so many times this court can say, ‘Don’t do something.’ Ms. Lueders does what she wishes to do. She doesn’t go to treatment, she basically lies to the court, and she’s manipulating the system.”
Lueders was briefly handcuffed, was outfitted with an electronic monitoring bracelet, and was “essentially on house arrest for the duration of the case,” allowed to leave only “for medical appointments, counseling, court hearings, and to take her mother Peggy Anderson Lueders to medical appointments.
Heidi Lueders initially sought to pursue an insanity defense, but Serafinowicz on July 15, 2019, admitted to Superior Court Judge Frank Iannotti that he and Heidi Lueders had not found a medical expert to support her claim of having suffered from temporary insanity.
Serafinowicz is a controversial figure himself, having defended many other high-profile clients in criminal cases since 2004. He was professionally disciplined in 2014 for denouncing a judge on the steps of the courthouse in Derby, Connecticut.
Instead of surrendering to police immediately after the cruelty and property damage charges were filed, Heidi Lueders reportedly checked herself into Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan, a pricy private drug addiction and psychiatric facility known for having hosted celebrities including Catherine Zeta Jones, Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson and Billy Joel.
Heidi Lueders apparently remained there, her family believed to have been paying the bills, until January 15 2019, when she surrendered to Fairfield police and was released after posting bond of $50,000.
Assault, threatening, & disorderly conduct
Heidi Lueders’ situation soon became more complicated when on the evening of January 29, 2019 she was arrested “on charges of [third degree] assault, threatening and disorderly conduct following a domestic dispute,” reported Marissa Alter.
These charges are apparently still pending.
Heidi Lueders has not been charged with any alleged offenses pertaining to illegal drug use and/or misuse of funds donated to Bully Breed Rescue, both of which have been extensively claimed on social media by former associates of Lueders.
Bully Breed Rescue
Bully Breed Rescue, now legally dissolved, was founded in 2005 by Benedicta “Bennie” McGrath, an attorney formerly practicing in New Canaan, Connecticut.
Heidi Lueders became involved as a volunteer in 2007. Retiring to Florida in 2013, McGrath turned the presidency of Bully Breed Rescue over to Heidi Lueders. Her mother Peggy Anderson Lueders joined the Bully Breed Rescue board of directors.
Heidi Lueders’ tenure as Bully Breed Rescue president included both a high-profile media presence and allegations from fellow rescuers and neighbors that she neglected dogs, but the allegations were not supported by actual criminal charges.
Disorderly conduct & criminal mischief
In April 2015 Heidi Lueders was reportedly charged in Stamford, Connecticut for disorderly conduct and criminal mischief for her part in a fight with the ex-wife of her then-boyfriend, Eric Stahl, then 38.
Stahl, who had at least two prior arrests for comparable alleged offenses, was charged with criminal mischief, conspiracy to commit strangulation and breach of peace.
Heidi Lueders admitted to puncturing two tires with a pocket knife in the incident precipitating the fight, according to the arrest affidavit.
Lueders’ pit bull bit woman
In August 2015, wrote New Canaan News reporter Martin B. Cassidy, Lueders “was charged with third-degree assault, disorderly conduct and second-degree reckless endangerment, and Melanie Numa, 19,” a Norwalk veterinary technician, “was charged with disorderly conduct, according to New Canaan Police Lieutenant Jason Ferraro.
“Police were called by Lueders and Numa,” Cassidy explained, “who reported being assaulted and robbed,” but “After [police] investigating, it was determined that Lueders and Numa were the aggressors, confronting the victim about money that was owed, Ferraro said.”
Continued Cassidy, “During the incident Numa attacked the woman, Ferraro said. When the woman’s 25-year-old boyfriend came to her defense, Lueders allegedly grabbed him by the neck with both hands, Ferraro said.
“At some point, a 70-pound pit bull owned by Lueders was let out of a car and bit the 22-year-old Norwalk woman’s leg, Ferraro said. The boyfriend of the woman gave Lueders and Numa the $100, Ferraro said.”