Gloria Lee and Kirk Bills must face charges for each of the puppies in the Prince and Princess Pet Boutique fire, a judge ruled Friday.
District Judge David Barker denied a defense motion to combine the 27 attempted animal cruelty charges against Lee and Bills. The pair have pleaded not guilty to the total of 31 charges, which also include burglary and arson.
Defense attorneys had argued that the fire was a single act and that the animals should be treated as property.
“What we have then is the situation where one act deals with property, the property is all merged together,” said Lee’s attorney, Thomas Pitaro.
Prosecutor Shanon Clowers argued that the law protects animals kept for companionship or pleasure, and that Lee and Bills should be accountable for each dog in the shop during the blaze.
“We’re doing it because we don’t want to set a precedent where if two animals are harmed and we’re only charging one when the statute tells us we should really charge two or 27,” Clowers said. “The same would be true if there were 27 children inside.
“We can in fact, even though it’s a singular act of him lighting the fire, charge for multiple animals.”
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.
On Friday, the judge also postponed the trial for Bills and Lee to Oct. 6. Lee, who also was indicted on insurance fraud charges in April, is out of custody. Bills remained in the Clark County Detention Center on $310,000 bail.
Roger Bailey, Bills’ lawyer, argued that there was insufficient evidence to place his client at the scene. Bailey said the video is too dark to identify the man captured on tape.
But prosecutors said they had “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 Jan. 27 fire.
Clowers said Bills was with Lee within an hour of the fire and changed his story several times about why he fled the state. The two have admitted to having an affair, Clowers said.
Barker denied Bailey’s motion.
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