Defendant in animal cruelty case wanted on warrant

A North Whidbey woman charged with animal cruelty failed to appear at court hearings.

A North Whidbey woman charged with multiple counts of animal cruelty is wanted on a $2,500 warrant after failing to appear at hearings in Island County Superior Court.

Kristi L. Finch pleaded not guilty earlier this year to two counts of animal cruelty in the first degree, five counts of animal cruelty in the second degree and tampering with a witness.

Finch failed to appear for a readiness hearing on Nov. 20, and the judge reschedule it for Nov. 27. When she didn’t appear again, Deputy Prosecutor Michael Safstrom asked Judge Christon Skinner to authorize a $10,000 warrant for her arrest.

In court, Safstrom said he has reason to believe 59-year-old Finch plans on leaving the state to set up a new animal breeding facility; under the terms of her release, she was ordered not to leave the state without permission of the court. Safstrom said he was concerned that she didn’t appear in court telephonically because she didn’t want anyone to ask where she is, although he admitted he had no specific information about her whereabouts.

Safstrom also pointed out that Finch is charged with tampering with a witness, which he said demonstrates her disregard for court orders.

On the other hand, Finch’s attorney, Eric Lewis, said he had been in contact with Finch over the last week and he didn’t know why she failed to attend the hearing. He emphasized that she had attended all hearings before last week and suggested that the arrest warrant should be $1,000.

In the end, Skinner decided to set the warrant at $2,500.

The recent hearings were ahead of her trial, which is scheduled for Dec. 5 but may end up being delayed for the seventh time.

The Island County Sheriff’s Office started investigating Finch last Christmas Eve after two horses were found starved to death on her property, according to court documents. At least 11 horses, 24 dogs, 31 cats, two pigs, four chinchillas and some rabbits were living on the property at the time and many of them were emaciated or living in small cages, a deputy’s report states.

The first-degree animal cruelty counts regard two horses that allegedly starved to death on Finch’s property. The two charges included aggravating factors that could increase a sentence beyond the standard range. The alleged circumstances are that the victims were “particularly vulnerable or incapable of resistance.”

The rest of the animal cruelty counts regard a horse, dogs and cats that Finch allegedly failed to provide necessary care for, resulting in “unnecessary suffering or unjustifiable pain,” according to the charges.

This summer, prosecutors filed a motion of forfeiture of most of the animals that had been seized from Finch’s farm. She fought the motion, but Skinner ruled in the prosecution’s favor.

Lewis is Finch’s third attorney after the first had a conflict of interest and the second filed a motion to terminate representation because he disagreed with her defense strategy.