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Evidence seized under search warrant in Howard animal abuse case ruled admissible

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A Howard County woman facing abuse and cruelty charges after 40 dead animals were found in her Columbia townhouse lost a bid Thursday to have critical evidence thrown out.

The lawyer for Elizabeth M. Lindenau — who faces 69 counts of animal neglect, abuse and cruelty, including 23 felonies — failed to persuade a Circuit Court judge to throw out evidence that police and animal control officers gathered under a search warrant at her rented townhouse, including dead animals, photographs and their observations of the scene. Defense lawyer Jonathan Smith said it would have been a fatal blow to the state's case.

Judge Timothy J. McCrone, however, did rule that the police illegally entered the Lambeth Court home earlier in the day, barring from trial the evidence seized at that time.

Smith called it a "partial victory" and a "vindication of the Constitution." He said the ruling meant that six charges would probably be dropped, as they were tied to five animals the officers confiscated on the afternoon of Jan. 16 before they had the warrant, after the property manager reported finding dead animals inside.

Assistant State's Attorney Tricia Cecil declined to comment after the hearing, which lasted nearly the whole day.

Lindenau, 40, a fitness instructor who was once an employee of the National Aquarium in Baltimore and executive director of an exotic-bird rescue group based in Maryland, is scheduled to go on trial July 24.

Smith argued successfully on his first point: that the police and animal control officers in this case did not meet the high standard set by the U.S. Supreme Court and state courts for entering a home without a warrant. He argued that there was not sufficient urgency in this case, such as a crime in progress, evidence about to be destroyed or a "hot pursuit" of a felony suspect. The officers went in the first time that afternoon after the property manager told them that she saw dead animals, smelled the strong odor of urine and feces, and may have told one officer that she saw two cats running around inside.

That meant the officers' observations after they entered illegally could not be used as the basis of the search warrant they obtained that night, leaving only the property manager's statements to establish probable cause of animal cruelty. Smith argued that was not enough, Cecil argued that it was, and the judge sided with the prosecutor on that more significant point.

Two cats, a gerbil and a bearded dragon were found alive in the townhouse. The police said 19 dead animals were found inside a freezer, including a guinea pig, birds, rabbits and a hermit crab, and 21 more dead animals, including birds, cats, rabbits and a snake, were found elsewhere in the house.

Police said pet food was inside the home, but it was not accessible to the animals, and the power, heat and water had been turned off.

Lindenau testified briefly during the hearing, saying that she was making a transition in January from the townhouse to her parents' single-family home in Columbia because they were moving out. She said she had not lived on Lambeth Court since April 2011, although she and her husband continued to pay rent there.

arthur.hirsch@baltsun.com

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