Ethan Phillip Weibman went to the Maryland SPCA, and from the dozens of cats, police say, he chose a short-haired one named Lucy to adopt.
He returned to the shelter two days later with the cat — dead, according to authorities. And, they said, he wanted another one.
Shelter officials refused, and later, when they determined that the cat had died of a traumatic blast wound to the chest that left her unable to breathe, and suffered bruising on her head, Weibman was charged in the animal's death.
The 20-year-old, a short-time Baltimore resident originally from an affluent town in Westchester County, N.Y., is scheduled to go on trial this fall on charges of animal cruelty resulting in death, mutilating an animal and animal cruelty.
Baltimore police also charged him with additional criminal counts related to the beating of another cat — two weeks after authorities say he had brought Lucy's body back to the SPCA. Court documents say Weibman is a suspect in the deaths of five more cats and kittens.
In the two years since a pit bull named Phoenix was doused with gasoline and set on fire, a case that cast a light on Baltimore's animal abuse problem, city police, prosecutors and public officials have been treating cruelty cases with newfound gravity
Juvenile boys were found responsible last November for beating a puppy to death on a golf course. In February, two other juveniles were charged with setting a nursing cat on fire. And prosecutors agreed to retry the twin brothers accused of killing Phoenix after their first effort ended in a mistrial in February; the second trial is scheduled for September.
The Weibman case stands apart from others because of its suspected serial nature and the background of the suspect: a well-to-do young man who grew up in a million-dollar home, attended Hampshire College, lists David Foster Wallace and Hunter S. Thompson among his favorite writers on his Facebook page, and whiled away the time before a recent court hearing by paging through a science magazine.
"Everyone who knows about this case is very concerned," said Caroline Griffin, who chairs the city's Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force, which was formed after the Phoenix case. "This case has caused a frenzy in the rescue community."
Weibman called The Baltimore Sun recently to deny the charges. "It's slanderous and entirely, completely false," he said. He could not, however, be reached last week for further comment.
His mother, Carol Weibman, contacted by phone in Bedford, N.Y., said the family has been told not to speak to the news media.
"He's young and he wants to be able to defend himself, but his attorney has requested that he not speak because of the upcoming trial," she said. "It's hard, especially when you want to shout out your innocence to the world. I wish I could say more, but my lips, unfortunately, are sealed."
Weibman's attorney, Ronald Kurland, did not return calls this week.
The first incident occurred March 20. According to police charging documents, Weibman adopted Lucy from the Maryland SPCA. Two days later, Weibman and his girlfriend returned to the shelter with the dead cat and wanted to adopt another, the documents say.
Police said Weibman and his girlfriend told SPCA staff they didn't know how Lucy died.
The SPCA wouldn't allow the adoption until staff members could determine how the cat died. When the SPCA called Weibman to tell him about the cause of death, according to court documents, Weibman told shelter officials that he owned a pellet gun and was shooting it in the living room, but the cat was in the kitchen at the time.
Police said that they then learned that Weibman had on April 5 adopted another short-haired cat named Lola from a PetsMart in Glen Burnie. Hours after the adoption, Weibman and his girlfriend brought the cat to Docside Veterinary Center in Fells Point, according to police.
The cat was suffering from several injuries caused, police say, by blunt-force trauma. Officers wrote in a report that her teeth were broken, she was bleeding from nose and suffering from cuts, facial swelling and hemorrhaging around the eye.
According to court documents, Weibman told the vet that the adoption staff at PetsMart had told him the cat needed a bath because it had a bloody nose.
Docside staff called the police and animal control, who immediately seized the cat. PetsMart officials later told police that the cat didn't have a bloody nose and that they never told Weibman the cat needed a bath, according to court documents.
On May 31, Weibman was charged with three more counts of animal cruelty and two counts of mutilating an animal.
Shelters, veterinarians and animal control officials declined to comment for this article, citing the continuing investigation.
Area cat rescuers, however, have been sending email alerts and posted dozens of online warnings related to the Weibman case hoping to prevent him from adopting any more cats in the region.
"Be on the lookout!" read one online alert. "Just a warning everyone to be VERY careful if you are adopting out cats or kittens," stated another circulated by the Maine Coon Alliance Rescue Network.
Lizzie Ellis who runs Baltimore's Feline Rescue Association, recognized Lola as one of the cats she had found on the street in Cherry Hill and turned over to a local rescue group that provided cats for the PetsMart adoption event.
Ellis said it was "devastating" to hear about what happened to Lola.
Erin Fowler, who volunteers with Ellis' rescue, said it's "heartbreaking" to imagine the fear and pain the animals must have endured.
"You think you're taking them from a bad situation and putting them in a great situation," she said of the cats she helps rescue. "It's scary."
A District Court judge in Baltimore released Weibman on bail after his arrest but ordered him to have no contact with animals and to receive counseling.