A man convicted of brutally beating his former girlfriend's cat after abusing her has become the 13th person in two years to be added to Tennessee's Animal Abuse Registry.
According to WBIR's sister station WCYB-TV in Bristol, 24-year-old James H. Winston was suspected in Dec. 2016 of bullying and beating his former girlfriend in multiple incidents before he critically injured her cat by viciously beating it against a kitchen counter and floor.
The female victim suffered a black eye and bruises on various parts of her body in the incidents. The cat survived the attack but was treated for severe head trauma and a broken jaw, according the police report.
In 2016, WCYB reported Winston was suspected of attacking the female victim as he held her against the wall by her throat and hit in the head several times. After falling face first to the floor, the victim told police Winston hit her in the back of the head, put her in a choke hold and dragged her back into the bedroom.
After continuing to assault her in another incident, police said Winston ordered the woman to stay in a corner, took her cell phone and car keys then said he "needed to spend some quality time with the cat."
Police reported that Winston grabbed the cat by the neck and began beating it against the kitchen counter and floor.
The victim then said Winston stopped to ask the victim if she loved him and wanted to be with him forever. The victim said she yelled 'yes' out of fear, but Winston said he didn't believe her and continued beating the cat, according to police.
The victim was able to retrieve her phone and text her friends for help. When those individuals arrived, Winston left before police initiated a search for him. He later turned himself in.
Authorities said Winston was convicted in November 2017 of Aggravated Domestic Assault and Aggravated Kidnapping of his girlfriend at the time, as well a charge of Aggravated Cruelty to Animals. He received a six-year sentence for his convictions and was formally added to the Animal Abuse Registry recently.
WBIR 10News took a look at Tennessee's Animal Abuse Registry a year after it had been established.
In Feb. 2017, just seven people were added to the list in its first year. As of Jan. 2018, that number is up to 13.
Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen explained why the registry is seemingly short when cases of animal abuse are widespread in Tennessee: It adheres to strict standards reserved for only the most heinous and violent animal abuse convictions.
Allen said most animal abuse cases end up being misdemeanors. In the case of aggravated cruelty to animals, as in Winston's case, the offense is considered a felony.
"The aggravated cruelty to animals is a standard that is pretty high itself, you either have to cause the death of an animal or physical injury to an animal in a cruel and sadistic manner,” Allen explained.
The initial intent for the registry, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Richard Briggs in 2015, was to deter cases of abuse and be used by rescue organizations and shelters as a tool so that no animals needing a home would end up in harmful hands.
Right now, the law also only covers “companion” animals, meaning dogs or cats.