UC Berkeley law graduate sentenced to probation for exotic bird beheading

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A UC Berkeley School of Law graduate was sentenced Monday to up to four years of probation and 16 hours of animal shelter work per month for beheading an exotic bird in 2012, according to court minutes.

According to a statement by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Justin Alexander Teixeira and two other UC Berkeley law students — Eric Cuellar and Hazhir Kargaran — were caught on video surveillance chasing a 14-year-old helmeted guineafowl in the Flamingo Hotel’s Wildlife Habitat area. A witness then observed the men emerging from the trees with the bird’s decapitated head and body.

Frank Coumou, a Clark County chief deputy district attorney, noted that the suspects appeared to be intoxicated during the incident.

Teixeira pled guilty in June 2013 to one felony charge of killing another person’s animal, which allowed him to avoid trial on that charge and a possible eight-year prison sentence.

Cuellar pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of instigating an act of cruelty to an animal, and Kargaran pleaded no contest to three misdemeanor charges, including instigating misdemeanor animal cruelty, malicious destruction of property and trespassing.

According to Kargaran’s attorney, Josh Tomsheck, Kargaran was ordered to serve two days in the Clark County jail, complete 48 hours of community service, pay a $1,000 fine as well as $150 in restitution to the hotel and take an alcohol awareness class. Teixeira allegedly acted alone in decapitating the bird and therefore faced steeper charges.

In June 2013, the Clark County district attorney’s office allowed Teixeira, as part of a plea deal, to complete a Nevada prison program instead of prison time. The Nevada Department of Corrections characterizes the program as comparable to a military boot camp, where prisoners do extensive physical training, manual labor and psychological counseling. Teixeira successfully completed the program, which lasted about half a year.

If he had gone to a jury trial instead of taking the plea deal, the felony conviction would have stayed on his criminal record indefinitely.

Judge Stefany Miley ruled that Teixeira must fulfill animal shelter work for as long as his probation lasts, regardless of other employment or school-related commitments.

Teixeira passed the California bar exam last year. If Teixeira plans to practice law, he will have to apply for a moral character determination requirement. Applicants must be approved for “good moral character,” which includes “obedience to the law and respect for the rights of others and the judicial process.”

His ability to practice law could also depend on whether he can get his sentence reduced to a misdemeanor after completing probation. According to the state bar website, those convicted of violent felonies or felonies involving moral turpitude can be pardoned for showing “overwhelming reform and rehabilitation.”

Teixeira’s attorney, Michael Pariente, could not be reached for comment.

Contact Jean Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @missjeanlee.