Charges to be dropped against south side reptile 'hoarder'

CREATED Nov 12, 2012

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MILWAUKEE- Terry Cullen and his family seemed relieved, yet subdued outside a Milwaukee courtroom.  He is at the center of a drawn-out, incredibly bizarre case.

The reptile enthusiast originally faced more than a dozen charges ranging from animal cruelty to sexual assault.  Now, it is very likely that charges will be dropped and Cullen will avoid prison time under a deferred prosecution agreement.

"The state had proof problems, significant proof problems," Cullen defense attorney Lewis Wasserman said.

More than two years ago, police investigating sexual assault claims against Cullen uncovered exotic reptiles crammed in his south side properties.  Video and photos obtained by TODAY'S TMJ4 show turtles in plastic bins, alligators in stacked horse feeding troughs, snakes in aquariums and caged rats.

The prosecution's case against Cullen was on shaky ground.  There were questions raised about the credibility of the woman making sexual assault claims.  According to the agreement, charges will be dismissed if Cullen undergoes sex offender evaluation, donates money to animal charities and does community service.

"If he does the things set forth in that agreement, he has no criminal conviction on his record and it's off his back at that point," said Anthony Cotton, another defense attorney representing Cullen.

Too much time has passed for city animal cruelty municipal citations to be issued, so Cullen will likely face no penalties for what authorities have called reptile hoarding.

"This is a case that didn't involve intentional infliction of harm and it didn't involve animals that were starving," said prosecutor Sara Lewis.  "I believe that this agreement, given the potential proof problems, addresses the needs of the victim, the community and the defendant as adequately as possible."

The woman who filed the sexual abuse allegations claimed the assault occurred while she was interviewing for an animal care internship.  She was in court Monday, but did not wish to take the stand.