Animal torture suspect free pending trial to undergo psychiatric treatment
SALT LAKE CITY — A federal judge on Thursday ordered the release pending trial of a Woods Cross man undergoing mental health treatment after being charged with torturing and killing guinea pigs and posting videos of the acts online.
U.S. Magistrate Daphne Oberg granted a defense attorney’s request that Samuel J. Webster, 18, may continue to receive compulsory psychiatric care as a condition of release. Federal prosecutors had urged that Webster remain jailed because his alleged crimes were “gruesome acts of violence that demonstrate cold-hearted cruelty.” He also allegedly threatened people who complained about his “animal crush videos” posted on YouTube, prosecutors said.
In a federal grand jury indictment this week, Webster was charged with 18 felony counts of distributing animal crush videos on YouTube, one felony count of creating an animal crush video and four felony counts of animal crushing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said federal law defines “animal crush videos” as depictions of intentional, serious bodily violence against animals.
The federal charging documents said Webster in October 2021 allegedly posted 23 videos of himself torturing guinea pigs that he bought at Wasatch Front pet stores. The Davis County Attorney’s Office late last year charged Webster with five aggravated animal cruelty counts in state court related to the same incidents.
In a motion this week seeking Webster’s detention, federal prosecutors argued that Webster remains a risk to animals and possibly humans. They said Webster is well-versed in computers with skills that could be used to cover his digital tracks. Some of the people he allegedly threatened could be witnesses in the case, they said.
In one chat message, Webster allegedly told someone, “Apologize in a better way or I will gut u like a pig ALIVE.” A forensic review of Webster’s phone, which was seized by police, found nine cached images depicting human torture, the detention motion said.
Prosecutors also quoted this online chat passage attributed to Webster: “Torture is like a drug to me, it’s very addicting. Hearing the scream of pain is so satisfying. We are disguised as lambs and yet we all have a tiger inside us. Predators kill their prey mostly by using torture, because it is easier to catch their prey.”
A Woods Cross Police Department probable cause statement alleged that Webster pulled out hair, plucked out eyes with a tool, broke bones and inserted his fingers into orifices.
Titles of the videos included, “I tried to make a puppet out of a guinea pig,” “Torture is addicting,” “Fatality” and “Ripped eye out.”
But Scott Wilding, Webster’s attorney, wrote in a response to the motion that Webster has no means with which to flee pending trial and that potential witnesses to the charged offenses “are located across the country.”
Wilding said Webster instead should receive “intensive psychiatric treatment” that “reasonably ensures the safety of the community.” He said his client suffers from emotional issues and diminished mental capacity that threaten his ability to understand the charges against him.
Webster has committed no destructive acts since he went into treatment after Woods Cross police arrested him in 2021, Wilding said.
According to an evaluation by a clinical social worker, Webster was diagnosed with “severe cannabis use disorder,” “cannabis-induced bipolar and related disorder” and “antisocial personality disorder,” plus an “unspecified neurodevelopmental disorder.”