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July 25, 2014

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Arson puppies criminal cases consolidated; judge declines to reduce bail

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Steve Marcus

Defense attorney Thomas Pitaro speaks with pet shop owner Gloria Lee at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Lee and co-defendant Kirk Bills pleaded not guilty to charges of torching the pet shop where 27 puppies were rescued, and a judge rejected a bid for lower bail.

Suspects in Pet Shop Fire Plead Not Guilty

Pet shop owner Gloria Lee appears in court at the Regional Justice Center Wednesday, March 12, 2014. Lee and co-defendant Kirk Bills pleaded not guilty to charges of torching the pet shop where 27 puppies were rescued, and a judge rejected a bid for lower bail. Launch slideshow »

Rescued Puppies

Yorkshire terrier puppies look out from a kennel at the Animal Foundation Campus, 655 N. Mojave Road, Tuesday, March 4, 2014. The puppies were rescued during a fire at the Prince and Princess Pet Shop on Jan. 27. Launch slideshow »

A business owner and her co-defendant pleaded not guilty Wednesday to revised charges, and a judge rejected a bid for lower bail while the two await trial on arson and other charges in a Las Vegas pet shop fire where 27 puppies were rescued.

Despite a lengthy argument by Gloria Eun Hye Lee's attorney, Thomas Pitaro, Clark County District Court Judge David Barker kept bail at $310,000 for Lee and Kirk Bills.

Pitaro and Bills' lawyer, Roger Bailey, said later their clients couldn't post that amount.

Pitaro argued in court that prosecutors failed to provide proper documents proving Lee was a three-time felon with convictions in California dating to 1999 for larceny, forgery and escape.

The judge noted records showed Lee was convicted in Alaska of forgery in 1998 and she pleaded guilty in December 2001 in California to larceny from a bank and flight or escape.

The bail hearing came after Lee and Bills were arraigned on a revised 31-count indictment filed March 7 containing the same charges but combining the cases against them.

The two had been charged separately because Lee was arrested shortly after the early Jan. 27 fire at her Prince and Princess pet shop, but Bills wasn't arrested until Feb. 7 in Crown Point, Ind.

Each pleaded not guilty Wednesday to felony and misdemeanor arson, conspiracy, burglary and attempted animal cruelty charges that, combined, carry the possibility of decades in state prison.

The judge set trial for July 7.

Prosecutor Shanon Clowers noted the case has generated intense media interest and told the judge that Lee and Bills were videotaped in a botched attempt to burn the store for the insurance money.

Clowers identified Lee as the woman seen collecting files, and a figure on the video appears to resemble her. Clowers also said Bills was the man wearing a hooded sweatshirt pouring liquid from gasoline cans and igniting it.

Puppies cowered in their cages as flames flashed, but fire sprinklers stifled the fire until firefighters arrived and rescued the animals.

The puppies were taken to the Lied Animal Shelter in Las Vegas and have become the focus of an ownership fight in court between Lee's estranged husband, Donald Thompson, and the shelter owner, The Animal Foundation.

Thompson's attorney, Jacob Hafter, said Wednesday he was posting an $8,000 bond ordered Tuesday by a judge who imposed a restraining order to stop the foundation from raffling the dogs in a $250-per-ticket fundraiser open to the public.

Another hearing is scheduled March 19.

Hafter said Thompson wants the dogs to go to an animal rescue group, A Home 4 Spot, for placement with new owners.

Clark County commissioners had approved the foundation raffle. But it was called off Friday, after Hafter filed a civil lawsuit claiming the county and the foundation conspired to steal the puppies from Thompson and sell them for their own benefit.

A deputy district attorney and a lawyer for the foundation argued Tuesday that Thompson hadn't properly demonstrated his stake in the store and lost ownership rights by waiting more than a month to try to claim the dogs.

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