An animal rights rally took place on Thursday morning in front of the Niagara County Courthouse on Hawley Street in Lockport. Twenty activists gathered to protest the ongoing legal proceedings against Tracy Murphy, the owner of a farm animal sanctuary in Newfane called Asha’s Sanctuary.
Ironically, the same ground was the site of a Niagara County farmers rally on Feb. 21, when a piece of legislation was passed that included language condemning “militant ideologies that are seeking to undermine the rights of farmers, attack the livestock industry and provoke confrontation.”
Murphy’s case has long been in the public’s eye since July 16 when she came into possession of two cows. Scott Gregson, a local beef farmer and state trooper, visited the sanctuary for his livestock, but was turned away. Murphy was then arrested on Aug. 2.
Since then, Murphy’s charges have been reduced to petit larceny, but the misdemeanor also carries with it potential time in prison. Murphy has pleaded not guilty and her case is being presented by Wayne Hsiung, a lawyer and animal activist.
Hsuing said that a hearing scheduled for April 13 was adjourned to another date in Town of Newfane Court, but that he would be moving to take the case to a state court, because the issue has become too sensationalized and politicized to guarantee a fair and impartial jury for Murphy.
“In essence, she came upon two cows and wanted to help them,” Hsiung said, adding that upon meeting people in Newfane, he found they also were not against helping animals and didn’t support animal violence, either, but noted that Protect the Harvest, a group opposing radical animal rights organization, led by Forest Lucas, had politicized the issue.
The case also saw national press earlier when Joaquin Phoenix, an actor who notably played Johnny Cash in “Walk the Line” and is also an animal rights activist, chimed in after Murphy’s arrest in August 2022.
“To so harshly punish a woman who was simply showing kindness to two individuals who had wandered onto her property is astounding,” Phoenix said in a statement.
Hsuing has also reported that Murphy never willfully refused to return the livestock to Gregson, but that Gregson had no sufficient proof to show he was owner. He also noted that Murphy’s attempt to bargain with Gregson if he was indeed the owner, was also not a refusal to give up Gregson’s property, but a negotiation. She did, Hsuing noted, ask for compensation for caring for the animals.
All of this could be said by Murphy herself, but she has been legally gagged, as protesters hoping to influence District Attorney Brian Seaman to drop the charges, showed by literally gagging themselves.
“She’s been gagged by the town while at the same time threatened online. People have posted they would ‘hang her from a tree’ or ‘come pay her a visit.’” Hsiung said. “I don’t think I’m out of bounds saying she’s been terrorized.”
On the other side of the issue, farmers’ rights activist Ed Pettitt said that without farmers and livestock things would be very different for everyone.
“There’s an element of hostility to farming, when educational reality conflicts with untested ideological views and those who believe their ideology must be forced on others,” Pettitt said
According to a press release there will be a “Right to Rescue Summit” on Saturday at the Vegan Center in Buffalo where Murphy will answer questions. More information can be found at https://www.facebook.com/events/s/right-to-rescue-summit/1117749466292062/.