The trial of Anthony Robert Ahrens – the former county resident and local chef accused of dropping a cat into a pen full of dogs, where the cat died – took another turn last Tuesday (Aug. 2) when a key witness failed to appear for a scheduled jury trial in Rappahannock County Circuit Court.
Ahrens’ father, Leo A. Shipp, whose original statement last December led sheriff’s office investigators to charge the 26-year-old Ahrens with the inhumane killing of a companion animal, a felony, failed to appear in the courtroom despite being summoned. When asked where he might be now, Commonwealth’s Attorney Art Goff replied that Shipp was last known to be living in Rockville, Md.
Goff asked Judge Jeffrey W. Parker for a continuance, as Shipp’s testimony was “vital” to the case.
“We could do this without him, but I’d much rather have him here,” Goff said later.
In court, Frank Reynolds, Ahrens’ lawyer, agreed with Goff’s motion. “I can’t disagree how important he [Shipp] is,” Reynolds said.
As a handful of spectators sat in the back pews watching, Parker granted the motion, continuing the case to Aug. 28. Parker then asked that the more than 30 potential jurors be brought up to the courtroom to have the situation explained to them.
“We appreciate you coming out today,” said Parker, “but we’re going to have to delay this a bit longer.”
Parker made a point to thank the jurors for their service, noting how important jury duty is and how frequently people try to escape it. He thanked the pool of jurors for their patience and understanding, and then dismissed them.
Ahrens was a sous chef at the Inn at Little Washington until becoming executive chef at Sperryville’s Cafe Indigo last fall; he has since moved out of the area. When asked later about Shipp’s close relationship to the defendant, Goff said the situation was not uncommon. “It happens all the time in domestic cases,” he said. In criminal cases, he added, “I certainly wouldn’t say it’s the norm, but it’s not very unusual.”
Goff said he is working with Maryland authorities to locate Shipp, for whom a warrant was issued last week.