Jurors’ Reflections On The Smithfield Piglet Rescue Trial
The Smithfield Trial refers to the prosecution of two animal advocates who were charged with felony theft and burglary after they removed two piglets from a Smithfield Foods facility in Utah.
Wayne Hsiung and Paul Darwin Picklesimer, a co-founder and member of Direct Action Everywhere, respectively, are activists “working to achieve revolutionary social and political change for animals in one generation.” In 2017, Wayne and Paul entered the Circle Four Farms facility in Milford, Utah, and removed two injured piglets (later named Lily and Lizzie). Circle Four Farms is one of the largest industrial pig processing facilities in the United States and a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, which is the world’s largest pork producer. Once rescued, the piglets were provided with veterinary care and relocated to a sanctuary where they currently reside. The removal of the piglets was filmed and posted on social media under the title “Operation Deathstar.”
In September 2022, Wayne and Paul went on trial in Washington County, Utah on charges of felony theft and burglary for removing the piglets. They were acquitted (i.e., found not guilty) by a jury on both counts.
This trial may interest animal advocates because it provides potential guidance for future trials and investigations. Additionally, this analysis provides insight as to which pro-animal arguments are more persuasive more generally.
In this study, we analyzed themes from interviews with five Smithfield Trial jury members (referred to below as “participants”) in order to determine which arguments jurors found most convincing and what lessons animal advocates can learn from this case. All results are drawn from the juror interviews as we did not examine trial testimony, evidence, or statements.
- The “not guilty” verdict hinged, in part, on the monetary value of the piglets to Smithfield, which was argued to be less than zero. The piglets required veterinary care that exceeded their value to Smithfield. The jury was initially hesitant to say the piglets had no worth because they saw them as having inherent worth as living beings, however they ultimately decided the theft charges hinged on monetary value only.
- The jury members believed Wayne and Paul did not have the intent to steal. Before their investigation of the Smithfield facility, Wayne said on video “if there’s something we’ll take it.” The jury interpreted the “if” as meaning the two activists did not enter the facility knowing they’d have the opportunity to take piglets. However, one juror noted that if the defendants had a pattern of doing this in the past, the jury might have been more likely to find them guilty.
- The participants all reported being more receptive to animal advocacy and animal welfare after the trial. One participant reported that they no longer eat ham. Another reported that while they still believe that pigs are here to be eaten, as a result of the trial they now believe that pig welfare should be improved. Another was even inspired to pursue animal activism.
- Despite what media coverage indicates, the “right to rescue” was not a major factor in the jury’s decision. Some media outlets (such as The Intercept and Democracy Now!) have characterized this trial as a test case for the “right to rescue” argument—the idea that one should be able to rescue animals, sometimes farmed animals, from distressing conditions. However, only two jurors mentioned this concept at all, and no jurors mentioned this idea as critical.
Treat jury members on animal cases with respect online and off. After the trial, some participants went online to find out more information, and were dismayed by the comments left by animal welfare activists about them, some of which assumed they wouldn’t take the trial seriously because they were from southern Utah. This may have decreased the positive impact the trial may have had on their opinions, attitudes, or behavior towards animal advocacy.
Animal activists should record their intentions before investigations begin. A key fact of the case hinged on one statement from Wayne: “If we find an animal we can take, [we’ll rescue her]”. In their recordings, investigators may wish to state their intentions in terms of rescuing injured or dying animals if they happen to find some. This could prove beneficial if they end up being prosecuted.
In theft cases, focus on the monetary value of the rescued animals. Emphasizing the monetary value rather than the inherent worth of the piglets was crucial, but is possibly counterintuitive to animal rights advocates. The piglets in this case had a negative value to Smithfield which indicated no “theft” took place. However, refer to the animals with empathy and respect — this was received well by jurors.
Use video evidence, but do so cautiously. The video evidence that was shown went in favor of the defense in this trial because one defendant indicated he did not enter the facility with the intent to steal. Participants also said that seeing unpleasant factory farming conditions may have encouraged them to side with the defense more strongly, but this part of the video was not shown during the trial. However, some quotes from the unshown part of the video could also have harmed the defense’s case, such as “we always rescue at least one animal.”
Don’t make negative assumptions about jury members. Multiple participants said the prosecution’s “condescending” attitude harmed their case, so lawyers should communicate respectfully with the jury. It is especially important not to assume the jury’s perception based on their identity — participants said they felt they needed to overcome negative stereotypes being from a rural part of Utah.
Consider using the “Right to Rescue” argument. While this theory was not critical to this trial, jury members’ discussions of the piglets’ moral value and comparison to rescuing a dog from a hot car suggested that they may have been sympathetic to the idea of having a right to rescue animals in distress. Depending on the nature of future cases, trial teams can attempt to push this argument further.
Applying These Findings
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Behind The Project
The project’s analyst and lead author was Fiona Rowles, while Dr. Jo Anderson reviewed and oversaw the work, with writing support from Björn Jóhann Olafsson. Dr. Justin Marceau designed and conducted the interviews with participants, and kindly shared the data with Faunalytics for the purpose of this analysis.
We would like to thank the five jurors who gave their time to participate in this research and provide their insights.
At Faunalytics, we strive to make research accessible to everyone. We avoid jargon and technical terminology as much as possible in our reports. If you do encounter an unfamiliar term or phrase, check out the Faunalytics Glossary for user-friendly definitions and examples.
Research Ethics Statement
As with all of Faunalytics’ original research, this study was conducted according to the standards outlined in our Research Ethics and Data Handling Policy.
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