All but one of the four men accused of stealing 11 sheep from a Hastings property, hand-raised for people with intellectual disabilities, have pleaded guilty and face prison time.
Gino Syrus Butler, 21, Raniera Owen Nathan, 35, and Nicholas Fido, 22, pleaded guilty to two charges each of burglary and cruelty/ill treating animals when they appeared in the Hastings District Court today.
Healy Te Are-Paul, 22, also appeared but did not enter a plea.
The summary of facts read out to the court described how the four men took the sheep from a property on Maraekakaho Rd, near Bridge Pa, run by Idea Services which provides assistance for people with intellectual disabilities. The sheep were used to teach clients how to feed and care for animals.
At 11.45pm on February 19 this year, a total of 11 lambs and sheep were taken from the Maraekakaho Rd property south of Hastings.
A number of the lambs were hog-tied and taken over a fence to a 1994 Ford Laser hatchback car which was parked by a fence next to the property. Eight of the lambs "were stuffed" in the hatchback boot and the others in the rear of the car, in the foot wells and passenger seats.
The animals were discovered by police when the vehicle was stopped during a routine check on St Georges Rd in Havelock North. The men admitted they had no authority to enter the Maraekakaho Rd property to take the animals. The sheep were returned to the property later that night.
The animals had been checked by Vet Services following their cross-city car trip and reparations were sought for the vet's bill.
Butler's lawyer, Cliff Church, told Judge Bridget Mackintosh his client was 21 years old and the younger of the offenders involved in the incident.
Butler was the first to admit guilt and the first to offer to help return the stolen sheep to the property.
Nathan, through his lawyer Matt Phelps, said he was embarrassed and wanted to contribute to the reparations. He also planned to apologise to Idea Services through a restorative justice conference.
Judge Mackintosh granted a request for a full report to be presented on Butler's behalf by his counsel before sentencing on April 19.
She said however it would have to contain "something amazing" to support Butler when he appeared again for him to avoid a custodial sentence.
"There was a similar case to this not that long ago in this area and one of those people involved got sent to prison so there has to be some consistency in this.
"The starting point is prison. Whether home detention (was an option) remains to be seen."
Nathan and Fido will also appear on April 19 for sentencing.