CLEVELAND Five people have been charged with stealing a lion carcass from an Ohio farm while sheriff's deputies were in a frantic hunt last month for dozens of animals a collector released before committing suicide.
Sheriff's deputies had killed several exotic predators and were trying to account for the others on October 18 when a vehicle pulled into the driveway at Terry Thompson's farm and then left, Muskingum County Sheriff's Office reports showed.
Deputies stopped the Jeep Cherokee down the road and found the lion carcass.
Charged on Monday in the theft of the carcass were Cody Wilson, 21, Richard Weidlich, 19, Brian Matthews, 21 and Joseph Jakubisin, 21, Muskingum County prosecutor Michael Haddox said on Tuesday. He declined to identify the fifth suspect, a juvenile.
Deputies shot nearly 50 lions, tigers, wolves, bears and other animals in the hours after they found Thompson, 62, lying dead and many cages open when they responded to reports of a lion running loose at the farm in Zanesville, in east-central Ohio.
A half dozen animals were captured and sent to the Columbus Zoo for care, while the carcasses of the animals that were killed were buried at the farm.
Thompson, who had been released recently from federal prison after a firearms conviction, had been charged 11 times since 2004 with animal cruelty. No suicide note was found, but an autopsy determined he had shot himself, authorities said.
(Additional reporting by Jim Leckrone; Editing by David Bailey and Cynthia Johnston)