Kristin Collins, Staff Writer
WINTON - All around this struggling farm town, chicken houses stand in the fields as a testament to the way many here earn their living -- raising, slaughtering and processing chickens.
It is an unlikely locale for an unlikely criminal case. Today, two employees of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a radical animal-rights group that opposes meat-eating, are on trial for the strangest of charges: killing animals.
PETA is based in Norfolk, Va., but its work has international scope. The group, which raises more than $25 million a year from 1.6 million supporters, opposes any human use of animals, whether for food, fashion or research. In the more than two decades since its founding, it has become a major threat to medical researchers, meatpackers, fur sellers and others.
Now, two of its employees stand accused of tossing garbage bags full of euthanized cats and dogs into a Dumpster behind a Piggly Wiggly in Hertford County, 130 miles northeast of Raleigh.
Adria J. Hinkle and Andrew B. Cook, both of whom work in PETA's Norfolk office, are charged with 21 counts each of animal cruelty, a felony that can carry prison time, along with littering and obtaining property by false pretenses.
It is a strange turn of events for PETA. The group's supporters have often been prosecuted for their radical efforts to protect animals -- breaking into fashion shows to throw blood on fur-wearing models, liberating lab animals, showing gory videos outside the circus -- but PETA has never been accused of hurting animals.