James H. Winston, 24, was originally arrested in December of 2016, then pleaded guilty to aggravated animal cruelty in November of last year. He was also convicted of assaulting and kidnapping a 19-year-old female during the same incident, which police say occurred over a two-day period.
Last week, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation placed Winston on its registry. It was launched about two years ago to keep the public informed about severe animal abusers, with animal shelters and rescues across the state encouraged to check the list frequently.
To be placed on the list, an individual must be convicted of aggravated animal cruelty — a Class E felony that prosecutors say is tough to obtain. Only 13 people are currently on the state’s registry, with Winston’s Sullivan County listing being the only one north of Greene County.
“I think the registry is long overdue. It’s a thing that we’ve needed for a while,” said Sullivan County Assistant District Attorney Julie Canter. “The facts of this case were particularly egregious.”
As previously reported by the Times News, Kingsport police said Winston’s crimes occurred at a residence on Mullins Street. He was accused of hitting and choking his girlfriend multiple times, then taking her keys and cell phone so she couldn’t seek help.
On the following day, the woman reportedly observed Winston striking her cat and “causing it to wail.” He threatened to kill the pet, shaking it by the neck and repeatedly beating it against the kitchen counter and floor. During the abuse, the cat began bleeding from its mouth and defecated.
During the incident, Winston allegedly asked his girlfriend if she loved him and would be with him forever. Out of fear, the woman replied “yes,” according to police, but Winston stated he didn’t believe her and continued to beat the cat.
The woman was later able to get her phone back and texted friends for help. When aid arrived, she grabbed the cat and ran to a car, at which time Winston reportedly entered another vehicle and fled the scene. He turned himself in to police several days later.
Meanwhile, the cat was treated at Airport Emergency Veterinary Clinic for severe head trauma and a broken jaw. Canter says the animal survived and Winston was ordered to pay restitution to the clinic for the care provided to the cat.
Canter says Winston is now in the custody of the Tennessee Department of Corrections. For the abuse of the cat and assault and kidnapping of his girlfriend, he recently received a six year sentence.
According to the TBI, Tennessee was the first state to create a registry for animal abusers. Canter added that as part of Winston’s sentence, he was ordered to never own or possess animals after he is released from prison.