BILLINGS - A Billings man charged last month with several felonies related to the abuse and killing of numerous dogs has pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.
Michael James Bigelow changed his plea Thursday in Yellowstone County District Court, admitting guilt to 11 counts of misdemeanor cruelty to animals.
Read the plea agreement:
Bigelow was sentenced to one year in prison on each count with all time suspended.
The sentences will run consecutively for a total suspended sentence of 11 years.
Bigelow will be under supervision during that period and will not be allowed to own any animals.
“We feel like the case resolved correctly. We do give credit to Mr. Bigelow for wanting to move on and enter into this agreement so quickly. And so we were fine with the arrangement that we made,” Yellowstone County Attorney Scott Twito told MTN News Friday.
“We felt the case was best resolved by changing the counts that were aggravated animal cruelty—which would have a two-year penalty—to animal cruelty which is a misdemeanor of up to one year," Twito said.
The 34-year-old man was initially charged last month with four felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and nine misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals.
After hearing prosecutors describe the case as "egregious" at a March 11 arraignment hearing, Bigelow was ordered held in the Yellowstone County jail on $125,000 bond.
Bigelow was arrested on March 3 after an investigation was initiated by a Yellowstone County Sherrif's Office Animal Control Officer who received a complaint of several large dogs harassing horses on property off of Bender Road.
Authorities said they found numerous dogs dead from being shot and others chained and in poor health.
Twito said Bigelow must give up all the animals and all his guns for 11 years as part of the plea agreement. A supervising officer will regularly check on him as part of the plea, Twito said.
Twito said Bigelow will have a chance to cut that in half if he is successful on misdemeanor probation and he agreed to a mental health evaluation to follow whatever comes from that recommendation.
“Based on the information that we had initially, it seemed that a few counts of animal cruelty were important. Upon further investigation development by the folks who were out there with the prosecutor and my office felt like maybe misdemeanors were more appropriate as far as resolution to the case,” he said.
“I think that people need to understand that the difference between felony and misdemeanor when we are talking about animal cruelty, we are talking about two years versus one year. And in this case, we were able to run it consecutive to 11 years so he is effectively on supervision for 11 years. That’s kind of what you would get with a felony animal cruelty,” Twito said.