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Trials Against Upper Hanover Couple Headed to County Court
Written by Bradley Schlegel, Staff Writer

            An Upper Hanover man waived his right to a preliminary hearing Tuesday on multiple criminal counts of animal cruelty in the township. Jason Wieder, 39, of Station Road, appeared for his hearing in the Red Hill court of District Judge Maureen Coggins without an attorney.

            Wieder and a co-defendant Melanie Rehrig, 33, also the same address on Station Road, each face 814 counts after law enforcement officials claim to have discovered 258 animals at a home in the 1100 block of Station Road in unsanitary conditions without access to adequate food and water. They each face five felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, 32 misdemeanor counts that includes 23 for neglect of animals and nine for cruelty to animals. The summary offenses include 258 each for failure to provide sustenance, failure to provide shelter and cruelty and one for fishing without a license.

            Rehrig waived her rights during a similar hearing on Dec. 17 before Coggins. She is represented by Alfred Stirba IV, an Allentown attorney, according to information posted on a state judicial website. 

           Wieder, wearing a blue shirt and black pants, sat alone at the defendant's table in the courtroom on Tuesday afternoon. After listening to instructions from the judge, he signed documents waiving his right to the hearing and waiving his right to legal representation during the hearing. However, the judge told the defendant that the he could apply for a public defender if he could not hire a private attorney.

            Coggins also asked Wieder if he wanted another judge to oversee his preliminary hearing since she recently provided pro bono advice for the Pennsylvania SPCA and the Lehigh County Humane Society. The defendant did not ask for her to be replaced.

            Tracie Graham, an officer for the Montgomery County SPCA, along with fellow humane society police officers Rhonda Thomas and Barbara Morgan, seized 258 animals – which included rats, guinea pigs, frogs, snakes, ferrets, skunks, turtles, water turtles, tortoises and alligators – from the residence in the Palm section of the township. Unsanitary conditions were discovered throughout the home, and a strong odor of urine and ammonia was detected, according to the police criminal complaint filed in the Red Hill court of District Judge Maureen Coggins on Nov. 19.

            Troy Merrell, an officer with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, determined that the duo illegally possessed two Southern Leopard Frogs, which have been identified as endangered species in Pennsylvania. Merrell also determined that Rehrig and Wieder possessed a Midland Painted Turtle and an Eastern Painted Turtle without first possessing a valid 2018 resident annual fishing license, according to affidavit of probable cause.

            A search warrant signed by Coggins at 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 17 allowed law enforcement officials to search the home and property on Station Road, which included a detached garage and storage sheds.  

            According to a receipt of seized property attached to the warrant, law enforcement officials recovered 19 rats, 32 guinea pigs, two frogs and one frog aquarium from the garage; 16 snakes, one dead snake, 16 ferrets and one wire ferret cage on wheels from a first floor bedroom; five tortoises and eleven turtles from another first floor bedroom, two skunks and one ferret in the master bedroom, six snakes in an upstairs hallway, 79 snakes and 13 tortoises from a small upstairs bedroom; two snakes, 27 turtles and three alligators from the living room and eight snakes and 14 water turtles from an upstairs bathroom.

            According to Morgan, Wieder was at the Upper Hanover home during the search. "He told me they were his pets," the officer said.

            An examination of the seized animals by a veterinarian in Radnor found that several were severely dehydrated. Two ferrets were identified as being in critical need of care. Two of the three snakes seized were dead. The third snake was euthanized by another animal doctor, and two tortoises and two guinea pigs died after the seizure, according to the legal document. 

            A formal arraignment in the case against Rehrig is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. on Feb. 13 in Norristown, according to the judicial website. A similar hearing for Wieder has been scheduled for Feb. 27, according to the judge.

            Rehrig and Wieder face similar charges in Lehigh County. On Nov. 2, they were each charged with five counts of felony aggravated cruelty to animals and six misdemeanor counts of cruelty to animals after emergency responders removed more than 100 animals from their residence in the 900 block of Hillcrest Drive South in Macungie on Oct. 15.

            Weider is also accused of six misdemeanor counts of neglect of animals and 81 summary offenses of animal neglect. Rehrig has been charged with five misdemeanor counts and 81 summary offenses of animal neglect, according to information posted on a state judicial website.

            Both arraigned Nov. 2 by Emmaus District Judge Donna R. Butler. Both defendants were released on $25,000 unsecured bail. Both waived their rights to a preliminary hearing for the same judge on Nov. 30.

            A formal arraignment for both defendants in Allentown, before Lehigh County Common Pleas Court Judge Robert L. Steinberg, is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 18.





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