The woman accused in the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique fire pleaded guilty Monday to arson, insurance fraud and cruelty to animal charges.
The 35-year-old Lee pleaded guilty to first-degree arson, insurance fraud and attempt cruelty to animals. In the last charge, Lee admitted that she tried to “torture or unjustifiably maim, mutilate or kill” each of the puppies in the pet shop at the time of the fire.
District Judge David Barker listed the breeds: 11 Yorkshire Terriers, six Malteses, three Chihuahuas, two Pugs, an English Bulldog, a Beagle, a Dachshund, a miniature Poodle and a Miniature Schnauzer.
The arson charge carries a possible sentence of two to 15 years in prison, while the insurance fraud and cruelty charges each carry up to four years behind bars. Barker is scheduled to sentence Lee in February.
Her lawyer, Ozzie Fumo, said she was “glad it’s behind her. Not all of us are defined by the worst thing we’ve done in our lives. And we hope judge Barker sees that at sentencing.”
Lee made a claim for more than $3,500 with the Hartford Insurance Co. after the Jan. 27 fire, according to an indictment.
Federal bankruptcy records show Lee and her husband have only recently emerged from financial problems.
Federal court records show Lee and her husband, Donald Thompson, filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2007 in an effort to repay their debts. The case was closed in 2011.
Prosecutors say Bills and Lee can be seen on surveillance video from the pet shop that shows a woman letting a man with dreadlocks into the shop. The man splashed gasoline and kerosene onto the animal cages and tried to start a fire as the woman pulled documents from the business and collected empty fuel cans before the fire was set.
The blaze was quickly extinguished by a sprinkler system in the store, and the dogs survived unharmed.
Of the plea agreement, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said: “It’s a very good settlement. I think justice is served.”
Bills, who is being held in the Clark County Detention Center on $310,000 bail, is scheduled to appear in court next month. His attorney could not be reached for comment Monday.
Prosecutors have said they have “a great deal of circumstantial evidence” to link Bills to the fire, even though he couldn’t “be positively identified” on the video.
Bills, a fledgling boxer, was arrested in Indiana several days after the fire.
Bills was with Lee within an hour of the fire and changed his story several times about why he fled the state, according to prosecutors. The two have admitted to having an affair.
Gina Greisen, the president of the Nevada Voters for Animals, and other activists for animals have followed the case through the court system.
“We’re pleased to see that she’s taken responsibility and plead guilty,” Greisen said after the hearing. “This has been a very long, hard-fought battle on both sides.”
Partly because of the pet shop fire, Greisen said she was pushing for a statewide animal cruelty task force and hotline.
The case drew national media attention after videos of the fire and the puppies were released. Animal rights activists protested outside the courthouse, demanding harsh penalties for the defendants.
The county took charge of the 27 dogs, which included 25 puppies, and the Animal Foundation adopted out the young dogs via the Arson Puppy Adoption Drawing, which sold $250 raffle tickets.
The two adult dogs were placed in foster care through the animal rescue A Home 4 Spot.
Contact reporter David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker.