Let the punishment fit the crime—or so the saying goes.
As Wes Johnson reports for The Springfield News-Leader, a Missouri judge has taken this old adage to the next level, ordering a convicted deer poacher to screen Bambi at least once a month over his one-year incarceration.
The defendant, David Berry Jr. of Brookline, Missouri, is one of four family members implicated in a three-year hunting operation that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of deer. According to prosecutor Don Trotter, the group mainly stalked prey at night, felling deer and removing their heads and antlers before abandoning the carcasses.
Randy Doman, division chief of the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC), tells Johnson the poachers were likely motivated by “greed and ego.”
“Taking just the heads is their version of obtaining a 'trophy' and leaving the carcass behind is merely an afterthought,” Doman explains. “While there are some cases where poachers go after the antlers for profit, with this bunch it was more about the thrill of the kill itself."
Berry pled guilty to the misdemeanor charge of taking wildlife illegally back in October. Christine Hauser of The New York Times writes that Berry’s one-year jail sentence was initially suspended in favor of a two-year probationary period. But Berry soon violated the terms of his probation, leading Judge Robert E. George of the Lawrence County Circuit Court to reinstate the original sentence—with an additional Disney-inspired twist—during a December 6 hearing.
Berry’s first Bambi screening must be held on or before December 23, according to court documents obtained by The Springfield News-Leader. As Berry’s defense attorney, Stacie Bilyeu, tells Hauser, this holiday-adjacent timing is deliberate: Referencing the notoriously heart-wrenching scene where Bambi’s mother is killed by unseen antagonist “Man,” Lawrence reportedly told Berry, “I hope when you get to the part where Bambi’s mother dies, it makes you think.”
To date, Berry and his fellow poachers have shelled out just over $200,000 in bonds, fines and miscellaneous court costs. The MDC notes that as of December 13, the four men—Berry, father David Berry Sr., and brothers Eric and Kyle Berry—had spent a collective 33 days in jail. Both David Jr. and Sr. had their hunting, fishing and trapping privileges revoked for life, while Eric and Kyle lost their privileges for 18 and 8 years, respectively.
The legality of passing unconventionally “creative” sentences on par with Lawrence’s Bambi decision is tenuous, Aaron Mak writes for Slate. Some legal advocates say these sentences constitute cruel and unusual punishment, but the Supreme Court has never issued a definitive ruling on the matter. BBC News offers a litany of examples, from a pair of Chicago teens sentenced to march through town after defacing a church nativity scene to an Oklahoman high school student ordered to attend church for the next 10 years after being found guilty of first-degree manslaughter
Jonathan Turley, an expert in public interest law at George Washington University, tells Mak he believes the Bambi sentence was more of a public relations gimmick than a genuine attempt to reform Berry.
“The judge cannot possibly believe that watching Bambi is going to produce an epiphany in this man’s life,” Turley says. “That leaves two possibilities: that the judge is trying to make a mockery of the defendant or is simply trying use the defendant for a type of public joke.”
In an email sent to The New York Times’ Hauser, Lawrence explained that he was not allowed to discuss Berry’s case. Still, he offered a brief meditation on the power of Bambi and other Disney films, concluding, “I find the movies always placed the viewer in a unique opportunity to learn life lessons about relationships with others and the effects of decisions.”