MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - A former Memphis Animal Shelter employee already facing four counts of animal cruelty is now facing five more. Billy Stewart will now face nine counts when he goes to trial this spring.
Both the new and old charges resulted from an undercover police investigation at the Memphis Animal Shelter in 2011 and 2012. Stewart is accused of injuring or killing five additional dogs or cats. Investigators say Billy Stewart choked animals until they were gasping for air and no longer conscious, minutes before they were euthanized.
He is one of three former MAS employees charged with animal cruelty. The other two employees, Archie Elliot and Frank Lightfoot, pleaded guilty last fall.
No one answered the door at Stewart's house, but his neighbor questions the timing of the new charges. Andre Williams wonders if the prosecutor's office is adding the charges to pressure Stewart to plead guilty.
"He didn't want to plead guilty and fight court so it ain't right to add more charges because you want to fight the charge," he says.
According to court records, Stewart denied doing anything wrong, saying, "They are trying to put these charges on me because they want me to get fired a long time ago but because I'm in the union it was hard for the mayor and the city to get rid of me."
He added he was "set up by an undercover officer" and "they didn't like me because I was a hard worker and on time."
We don't know if the additional charges will impact Stewart's decision to move forward with the trial, or if he will try to cut a plea deal.
Either way, animal advocate Cindy Sanders says, "I am glad to see them go back and hit as many charges as possible. If you commit animal cruelty and torture animals, you should be prosecuted for every one, not just a few."
A spokesperson for the District Attorney's Office said the additional charges were not an attempt to punish or pressure Stewart to plead guilty, instead saying there was always the possibility of additional charges.