On Friday, October 12, 2012, Eric Cuellar and Justin Teixeira (pictured from left to right above), who are currently enrolled at Boalt Hall Law School, were arrested at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for decapitating a fourteen year-old exotic bird. The helmeted guineafowl named Turk was part of the Flamingo’s Wildlife Habitat. According to an editorial on Laist.com, “(Alleged) Douchebag Law Students Arrested For Beheading Rare Bird On Trip To Vegas,” the twenty-four year-old students managed to break into the hotel and casino’s wildlife habitat during a recent trip to Vegas. The wildlife habitat contained Turk as well as flamingos.
The Las Vegas Sun column, “Wildlife habitat’s camera caught 3 men chasing exotic bird prior to decapitation,” discusses how a camera captured Turk running through his manmade home on October 12 before being followed by three males. The editorial states that Turk and the men go out of the surveillance camera’s range and then the culprits come back into the cameras view without the exotic bird being seen.
Eight News Now article, “2 Arrested in Killing of Exotic Bird,” reported that a witness inside the hotel saw both men tossing a dead bird while chuckling and talking about killing the rare animal. The column explains that Justin and Eric were caught on video surveillance running after Turk into trees. When the pair emerged from the trees, they were carrying Turk’s severed head and body.
According to Fox Five Vegas, “Law students accused of beheading exotic bird,” Metro police revealed they received a call at 9:35 A.M. on October 12, stating that two perpetrators were being held by hotel security for killing the helmeted guineafowl. Just like the Eight News Now piece, the Fox Five Vegas articled noted that Justin and Eric were caught on surveillance video chasing Turk into trees. The Fox Five Vegas column also mentioned a witness who overheard Justin say to Eric, “I (expletive) killed wildlife,” while he tossed the dead bird to his partner in crime.
Metro Police Sgt. John Sheahan told Eight News Now, “According to the security people, the men were laughing and joking about the fact of what they had done. Security had allegedly seen these men chasing the bird into a brushy treed area of that habitat and then coming out of that area with the bird in two pieces.” Eight News Now disclosed that Justin and Eric were detained at the Clark County Detention Center and will face felony charges of willful malicious torture/killing of wildlife as well as conspiracy. Although both Justin and Eric told authorities they’re law students attending the University of Berkeley, they refused to speak with detectives when they attempted to interview them.
The Las Vegas Sun pointed out that security officers found the helmeted guineafowl’s corpse on a walkway, which was close to where the surveillance video caught the law students chasing the bird. The severed head was located on nearby rocks. The Las Vegas Sun reported that Turk was the hotel and casino’s only helmeted guineafowl, estimated to be worth between $150 and $175.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson told Fox Five Vegas that criminal charges will be filed against Justin and Eric in the next couple of weeks. The district attorney said, “We don’t have all the evidence yet. We’ve requested the surveillance video so that we can have everything in before making the charging decisions.” Justin and Eric will have to appear in Las Vegas Justice Court on February 11, 2013.
Animal rights activists are furious over the killing of the helmeted guineafowl, but are delighted that the law students will be tried under a new rigid Nevada law, which makes killing an animal a felony. Gina Greisen who is associated with the Nevada Voters For Animals told the Fox Five Vegas, “What kind of depraved mind decides to crawl over a fence of a habitat and kill an animal?” Justin and Eric will most likely be charged under Cooney’s Law, which was recently passed in Nevada. The new law states that any individual who intentionally kills an animal in Nevada will be faced with felony charges.
Above The Law editorial, “A Close Look at the Alleged Berkeley Bird Murderers,” explains that Justin and Eric’s families flew to Sin City to bail out the boys on the 12th and 13th of October. Both men flew back to Berkeley. Above The Law states that Eric is a second year law student who graduated from the University of Texas. Justin is a third year law student who graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Political Science and Minored in Environmental Studies. Justin also was employed with the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice during his first year at Boalt Hall Law School. Many readers might be surprised that an individual who studied environmental studies and worked for the Environment and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice would have participated in killing an animal. However, Justin has been paying close attention in Criminal Procedure class, since he and Eric refused to answer questions after the authorities read them their Miranda rights. Both students quickly requested counsel.
So what has been the Berkeley law community’s reaction towards Justin and Eric? According to another Above The Law article, “The accused Berkeley Bird Beheaders: The Arrest Report, The Dean’s Reaction, and More,” the Berkeley law community are supporting the suspects. One Boalt student told Above The Law:
“I don’t have any additional information except that there was a group of at least 20 Berkeley Law students going to Vegas for the weekend, and now none of them will talk about what happened. They, and much of the rest of the program, are all rallying around these guys. It’s a pack animal mentality out there….
I haven’t even been able to vent my frustration to classmates for fear of being totally ostracized. These guys have just made Boalt look terrible, and we haven’t had a good year when you think about [various other scandals involving Boalt grads]. We don’t need anymore of this crap.
Anyway, everyone is, indeed, in support of these guys, and I’m not quite sure why. If you can’t hold your liquor without going on a violent rampage, you don’t deserve respect.”
The law school’s formal response wasn’t exactly critical of Justin and Eric’s behavior. Fox Five Vegas quoted the Dean of UC Berkeley School of Law, Christopher Edley Jr., when he asserted, “I’m extremely troubled by news accounts of the students’ actions off campus, but it’s up to the Nevada legal system to examine the facts and rule in this case. It’s premature to speculate about any possible consequences; the justice system must run its course.” It is extremely practical for a law dean to let the legal system run its course, but since the legal process can take a while to unfold, the public will not know all of the facts of the case until Justin and Eric’s next court date, which is scheduled for February 11, 2013.