Cassie King

Published on:

December 6, 2022

Court Update: The #SonomaTrial Is Finally on the Horizon

Preliminary hearings finally happened for Rachel and Jon. The prosecution argued that they were "co-conspirators" in the 2018 and 2019 rescues at Sonoma County factory farms. Judge Urioste agreed to send the case to trial on felony charges.

“We are dealing with a large-scale conspiracy to commit rioting and crimes.” This is what Sonoma County Deputy District Attorney Bob Waner said at yesterday’s preliminary hearing for DxE activists Rachel Ziegler and Jon Frohnmayer. They are facing felony charges in an animal rescue case that started four years ago. Now, we are finally getting close to trial.

Jon and Rachel with their attorneys and a group of court supporters at the Santa Rosa Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022

The charges stem from nonviolent actions at factory farms in Sonoma County where DxE activists documented animal cruelty and rescued animals. At the hearing, the prosecution called three witnesses to testify about these actions, including an investigator with the District Attorney’s office and two members of law enforcement.

Read the press about yesterday’s hearing here.

In his conclusion, the prosecutor, DA Waner argued that it isn’t required to show every member of a conspiracy trespassed or entered a building. He said Rachel and Jon were “very active participants” in DxE.

Jon and Rachel at the Santa Rosa Courthouse on Monday, Dec. 5, 2022

Rachel’s attorney Gabriela Lopez argued that simply being a member of an organization does not make them a co-conspirator. Jon’s lawyer Lauren Regan stated that guilt by association is a violation of due process.

Although the prosecution failed to provide evidence that Rachel or Jon engaged in the alleged crimes including conspiracy and burglary, Judge Urioste nonetheless ruled that the case would proceed to trial on all charges.

The only charges that were removed were actually removed by the prosecution before the hearing began. They filed an amended complaint with all of the charges relating to the McCoys Poultry action removed. Sonoma County’s own animal services department referred McCoy's as a suspect for animal cruelty, after examining the birds removed by activists from the farm. So it seems like DA Waner simply doesn't want the judge or jury to see this evidence of animal cruelty, including birds with necrotic wounds so deep that muscle and bone were exposed. He also dropped the felony theft charge from Sunrise Farms. Rachel and Jon are now facing 4 felonies and 4 misdemeanors.

Preliminary hearings for the other set of DxE activists facing felonies in Sonoma (Almira, Priya, Wayne, and me) have not yet concluded. They are set to conclude in January. We will keep you posted when trial dates are scheduled.

We believe that rescuing animals from abuse is the right thing to do, and we are excited to prove that to a jury and to the world. If you feel inspired about these Right to Rescue cases, please consider including Friends of DxE in your year-end giving. All donations are being matched so your donation will go twice as far!