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SHEPHERDSVILLE - A man who entered a guilty plea on the brutal killing of eight cats in late 2010 called his actions "monstrous" on Friday morning.
And Bullitt Circuit Judge Rodney Burress must have agreed.
Alex Daniel Phelps, 26, was sentenced to five years in prison on his guilty plea on eight counts of torture of a cat causing severe physical injury or death.
Each Class D count received a five-year sentence with each running concurrently for a total of five years in prison.
Phelps briefly spoke to Burress and then answered questions from assistant commonwealth attorney Michael Ferguson.
"I'm sorry to the victims," said Phelps. "And I'm sorry to my family. Hopefully, I can be a better person."
Phelps admitted to Ferguson that he might have acquired up to 26 cats through sources such as Craig's List. He couldn't tell Ferguson where the other cats were at, stating that some of them had been released into the wild.
"I'm ashamed of my behavior," said Phelps, who described it as "monstrous."
Phelps admitted to the prosecutor that he would take cats that the owners had to give up. But he never said he liked the killing process.
He also admitted that he lied to detectives initially when he told them that the recovered cats had died a peaceful death.
If the case had gone to trial, Ferguson was ready to present evidence showing that the cats had been bound and tortured. Many had numerous cuts and some had broken bones from trying to escape.
At one point, defense attorney Thomas Clay, who was assisted by attorney Kirstin Daniel, advised his client to answer no more questions.
Jason Knopp, one of the owners who gave his cats to Phelps through Craig's List, said the situation has deeply affected his life.
"I expected them to be cared for," Knopp said on the witness stand. "These cats were companions of mine through a very hard time in my life."
The Sullivan University student was suffering kidney issues at the time and said the cats were part of his recovery plan.
"These animals trusted me and I cared for them deeply," said Knopp.
Even after giving the cats to Phelps on New Year's Eve 2010, he tried to keep in contact. He received text messages from Phelps stating that the cats were eating tuna, catching mice and looking at the stream. But he would never let Knopp visit the cats, calling that a "creepy" situation.
Clay asked Burress to allow his client to serve the five years while out on probation. He said Phelps was more than agreeable to counseling and treatment during the probation period.
"He's gotten the message," Clay said of his client, who spent over 460 days in the county jail so far.
An evaluation by state mental health experts recommended counseling and Clay said under probation, his client would be supervised for five years and must follow all orders of the court.
If he is denied probation, he would be quickly eligible to meet with the parole board and there would be no outside treatment, according to Clay.
In making his decision to deny probation, Burress said he looked at the case file, reviewed letters sent to him on the matter and considered the affects of his decision.
Burress said he felt that releasing Phelps on probation would diminish the seriousness of the crime and that treatment would best be given through a correctional institution. Plus, Burress said he felt there was a substantial risk that Phelps would commit another crime.
Following the decision, Knopp said he was extremely gratified.
"I think justice has been done," said Knopp.
He felt there should be stricter laws to deal with animal cruelty issues. He also warned anyone dealing with other individuals on social media to be very cautious.
Ferguson said he was also pleased with the judge's decision to deny probation.
"I think the punishment fit the crime," said the prosecutor.
Phelps would be required to serve at least 15 percent of his sentence. Parole eligibility could occur quickly but there is no guarantee the board would grant Phelps' release.
He said the commonwealth attorney's office will follow the case and would speak against any early release.
The state Department of Corrections would be responsible for determining how many days of credit Phelps would receive for his time already served behind bars.
Also in the audience Friday were representatives from the Bullitt County Hope for Pets, the Shamrock Foundation and the U.S. Humane Society.