Animal rights activists not guilty in theft of Utah piglets

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A jury in Utah found two animal rights activists not guilty on charges of burglary and theft after they allegedly took two sick piglets from an industrial pig farm.

Activists Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer with the California-based group Direct Action Everywhere had argued during their trial that nothing of value was stolen because the 3-week old piglets were in poor condition and likely to die. The not guilty verdict was delivered Saturday following a weeklong trial.

The group took a 360-degree virtual reality video of the March 2017 incident at Smithfield Food’s Circle Four Farms near Milford and promoted it online, as part of a tactic known as “open rescue” that’s meant to shed light on abusive farming practices.

Investigators used the video to identify the defendants and three other activists who were charged and took plea deals rather than go to trial. Hsiung and Picklesimer faced up to five and a half years in jail if they had been convicted, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

In 2017 a federal court struck down a Utah law banning secret filming at farm and livestock sites, claiming the restrictions were an unconstitutional violation of free speech.