‘You’re shooting yourself in the foot’: Pig trial jurors reveal what went on in deliberations

ST. GEORGE — Three months after a St. George jury returned a not guilty verdict to burglary and theft for two men who admitted breaking into a Beaver County pig farm and taking two piglets, five jurors have revealed for the first time what exactly went on during their deliberations and why they settled on exonerating two animal welfare activists.

Audience listens in to jurors from an October trial in St. George that exonerated two animal activists at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, Denver, Colo., Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Kimito Sakata/Direct Action Everywhere, St. George News

The five people from St. George spoke at the Sturm College of Law at the University of Denver on Friday during a symposium about the trial hosted by an animal advocacy group on campus.

The jurors, who asked not to be photographed and only went by their first names, revealed while they settled quickly on a not-guilty verdict for one of the two men, Paul Picklesimer, they were deadlocked for several hours on the other defendant. Ultimately, they said Wayne Hsiung also was acquitted when it was affirmed in a question to the judge that the monetary value of the piglets taken was zero. 

A juror named Lynne said it came down to Instruction 43 in the jury instructions. “The prosecution had to show the pigs had a value greater than zero,” Lynne said. “I circled that right there.”

The jurors also didn’t have kind words for the prosecution in the case. 

Hsiung and Picklesimer, both members of the animal welfare group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, were accused of going into one of several pig housing facilities at the Smithfield Foods Circle Four Farm in Milford on March 7, 2017, and ultimately taking two piglets. The two also filmed the incident and put it online, Lynne said.

The trial was ultimately moved to St. George after 5th District Judge Jeffrey C. Wilcox determined it wasn’t possible to seat an unbiased jury in Beaver. Based on its U.S. Census population of 6,594, 1 of every 4 people in Beaver County works for Smithfield Foods. 

The group of four jurors and one alternate that spoke said they all had open minds and while most said they didn’t want to serve on the jury, they were all intent on being open-minded and doing the job of an unbiased juror correctly. 

Even so, early in the trial, jurors said they not only were leaning on the defendants being guilty, they thought that guilt was clear-cut.

“This was a slam dunk case,” juror Rebecca said. “I mean they filmed it.”

Wayne Hsiung speaks during a seminar on his St. George trial at the University of Denver’s Sturm College of Law, Denver, Colo., Jan. 13, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Kimito Sakata/Direct Action Everywhere, St. George News

For Rebecca, who grew up on a farm, what colored her view going into the trial was what she said she saw as over-aggressiveness by those protesting the treatment of animals in farming facilities.

“Animal activism had a negative connotation in my life,” she said.

Also affecting the jury’s mindset was that while Picklesimer was represented by an attorney, Hsiung – a lawyer – represented himself.

“When I saw Wayne was his own attorney, I didn’t know he was actually an attorney. I thought this thing was going to be a s— show,” Lynne said, adding he thought it was going to be an easy case after hearing Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen make his opening argument for the prosecution.

“I was wondering, ‘Why do they think it’s going to be a four- or five-day case they said when we went in?’” Lynne added. “I was just thinking, ‘Let’s get this over with. I have golfing to do.’”

But the trial did go on for four days and as it went on, jurors said their open minds were turned away from the prosecution toward the defense.

Prosecuting attorney responds

A strategy employed early on in the case by the prosecutors from Beaver County and enforced throughout the trial by Judge Wilcox was to keep just about any mention of animal abuse and the videotape of the incident showing the animals in distress out of the trial.

The jurors said that decision backfired.

“It felt there was so much being hidden and suppressed,” a juror named Jill said. “That was a turning point for me when the prosecution shut down any mention of animal cruelty.”

Beaver County Attorney Von Christiansen cross-examines witness Sherstin Rosenberg, St. George, Utah, Oct. 6, 2022 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

Joking he still has post-traumatic stress disorder from what he said was an “awful week,” Christiansen told St. George News if he had to do the trial over again, he would make sure to include the video.

“I agree with them on that one,” he said. “The judge felt the video would turn the trial into a trial of the victims so we went with the judge on that. I tried to enter photographs from the trial and the judge didn’t like them. If I were to try the case again, I would really push to allow the video and push the farm to tell their story.”

A juror named Kenyon, the one jury member who said he was born and raised in St. George, said as soon as the trial was over and he got home, the very first thing he did was to go online and watch the video he wasn’t allowed to see during the trial. 

“I was really angry that they wouldn’t have let us see it,” Kenyon said. “It wouldn’t have helped or hurt your case, we just would have gotten the full information.”

Rebecca said it was the withholding of information that sowed doubt in the jury about both the prosecution and the victims they said they were representing in Smithfield Foods. They said a great aspect of the trial was the judge allowing for the jury to ask questions during the trial, but Rebecca said one answer they got, in particular, turned sympathy away from Smithfield.

“A question we asked is, ‘Is photography allowed in the barn,’” Rebecca said. “We got a big, ‘No,’ and I’m thinking, ‘That’s not helping your case. You’re shooting yourself in the foot.’”

Something that observers at the trial thought helped sway the jury was when Moroni turkey farmer Rick Pitman testified for the defense, saying he made peace with Hsiung and Picklesimer after they initially protested his farm but later worked with him on the treatment of his animals. 

Supporters of the defendants in the trial of two men accused of stealing two piglets from the Circle Four Farm in Milford, Utah, watch the proceedings inside the Electric Theater, St. George, Utah, Oct. 4, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

But jury members said they were actually split on the Pitman testimony. While Lynne said Pitman was a “great witness” who showed the two defendants were willing to work with farmers, Jill said the testimony had the “opposite effect” on her.

“It felt like they were bullies,” Jill said. “It didn’t help.”

There was also the large government response by Beaver County, the state of Utah and the FBI, which is tasked with investigating thefts when the value of the items taken exceeds $5,000. The monetary value of the two piglets — who the defendants named Lizzie and Lily and remain at an animal sanctuary in Erie, Colorado —  would ultimately be a deciding factor for the jury. 

Hearing that the FBI had sent eight FBI agents to chase after these two little piglets felt sinister, like what was even going on there?” Rebecca said.

Jurors also faulted Christiansen for what they said was an argument he made in his closing argument when he compared the stolen piglets to rescuing a can of soup in a grocery store with dents in it.

I was grateful for the prosecution doing a poor job because we were able to determine what was right,” Rebecca said.

While agreeing with the jurors on the withholding of the videotape, Christiansen took exception to their criticism of the prosecution.

“I disagree with that characterization. We were working within the confines of the case,” Christiansen said. “Given the limits we were given, we proved our case and the jury blew it.”

Putting a value on piglets

After the case went to the jury late on a Friday night, all of the parties slept on it and returned on Saturday morning in a room with a whiteboard and washable markers. 

Marked on the board were five points from the jury instructions that the jury had to find in order to convict the two defendants.

Undated 2022 photo of Lily, who as a piglet was one of two taken from a Milford, Utah, pork production facility, Erie, Colo. | Photo courtesy Luvin Arms Animal Sanctuary, St. George News

Within the first hour, the jurors said they quickly determined unanimously that Picklesimer should be exonerated. Jurors said Friday there was little to no evidence presented by the prosecution that Picklesimer, who filmed the incident but was not seen in the video, was even there. 

The jury’s first vote was 8-0 not guilty for Picklesimer, 6-2 not guilty for Hsiung.

Debate turned in the jury room to two things: The value of the piglets and whether Hsiung intended going in to take the piglets. 

The jurors eventually said they believed the defense argument that the activists weren’t there to steal piglets but to document what they saw and took the piglets because they felt their health was in danger. 

What became the biggest hanging point was the jury’s instruction that to find Hsiung guilty, the prosecution had to prove the piglets had monetary value. 

“There was a point we weren’t sure we would come to a unanimous verdict,” Jill said. “Rebecca and I were the last holdouts. If I’m holding this box with two pigs, they absolutely have value.”

Kenyon said coming into play during that debate was when all the jurors realized they had something in common: they had all watched the 2008 Academy Award-nominated documentary “Food, Inc.”

“We had all watched it,” Kenyon said of the film that examined corporate farming and what it alleged were unhealthy practices in the production of food.

He said the film’s contention of animals being nothing more than commodities to corporate farms came to the forefront in deliberations.  

During the trial, both the prosecution and the defense produced veterinarians as witnesses.

For the prosecution, state veterinarian Dr. Dean Taylor said the monetary value of each pig was $42.20.

For the defense, animal rescue vet Dr. Sherstin Rosenberg said because of injuries and what amounted to a less than 5% chance of survival, the piglets had zero value. Witnesses also testified during the trial that the Circle Four Farm dumps more than 100,000 dead pigs and piglets to local dumps yearly. 

Activists supporting Wayne Hsiung and Paul Picklesimer celebrate on the steps of 5th District Courthouse, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

“We were told they were thrown in a dumpster. That isn’t worth more than zero,” Lynne said. “Even if healthy, they were $38. Smithfield was not going to pay for $150 of care to get $38 back. They did Smithfield a favor. If they didn’t take them they would have had to dispose of them anyway.”

As he did during the trial, Christiansen disputed that assertion, saying the farm had less expensive methods to rehabilitate the piglets.

“The animals had value to the thieves to the extent they had the veterinarian heal the animals, so to say the animals had no value was not factual,” Christiansen said. 

On that Saturday of October, the jury deliberated for five hours and were still deadlocked at 6-2 on a not-guilty verdict and decided to go to lunch. 

Before leaving, Jill said she remembered thinking if the pigs had monetary value, Hsiung should be guilty.

When the jury returned, they had a question for the judge that was kept sealed. Jill revealed that the question was about if there were any laws that said the piglets had value. Wilcox said he wasn’t able to answer that question. 

Jill said that no answer was enough to bring enough doubt for her on a guilty verdict.  

“The judge came back with no answer on value,” Jill said. “That was our answer.”

The jury entered the court an hour later with stoic, poker faces and didn’t make eye contact with the defendants. Picklesimer said later he was intimidated enough that he thought they were going to come down with guilty verdicts. 

Paul Picklesimer and Wayne Hsiung await the reading of the verdict, St. George, Utah, Oct. 8, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

As supporters of the defendants and Direct Action Everywhere celebrated on the courthouse steps on Tabernacle Street, the jurors left around the back and went home.

That night, Rebecca said she was disheartened to see many of her fellow locals take shots at the jury on social media and on Facebook posts of news stories covering the verdict. 

“It was frightening, some of the comments,” Rebecca said, noting that the jury ultimately had to go by the jury instructions on whether to find the defendants guilty. “I read comments from people saying what morons and compared us to the O.J. Simpson case but we had to check the boxes.”

Christy was an alternate juror and while sitting through the whole trial didn’t get to be in deliberations or determine a verdict, though ironically Rebecca said Christy was the one member of the juror actually excited to be on a jury. 

Christy, who said she would have also come down with not guilty verdicts, said her fellow jurors should be judged on their fairness.

“I think all of the jurors in this were good people; they sat through this and looked on without any agenda,” Christy said, adding assertions before the trial that a St. George jury would not be able to give the two a fair trial were proven unfounded. “They just looked to do what was right. There wasn’t an option not to get a fair trial.”

The jurors said there was a positive result from being on the Smithfield Trial jury: new friendships. 

“We’ve all been to my house to hang out,” Lynne said. “We all like each other.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!