A Santa Maria woman accused of fatally stabbing a cat at her ex-boyfriend’s Orcutt residence in January has struck a deal with prosecutors, admitting to a felony animal cruelty charge in order to avoid more jail time.
Nellie Marie Palacios, 43, entered the guilty plea Wednesday in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria, according to Deputy District Attorney Chrystal Joseph.
The deal reversed a former not-guilty plea entered Feb. 11.
Palacios, who is no longer in custody after being released on her own recognizance, admitted to charges to receive five years of felony probation and required participation in the Duel Diagnosis Treatment Court for mental health and substance abuse issues, Joseph said.
She will also receive credit for time served — 25 days — when back in court for her formal sentencing scheduled for June 5.
If the case went to trial, Palacios faced a maximum of three years in prison, to be served in Santa Barbara County Jail, or a maximum fine of $20,000, Joseph said.
“If she is in full compliance with the (treatment) program, completes the program and has no new law violations after a year and half, the People will not oppose a reduction by the court of the felony charge to a misdemeanor and her probation time will convert to three years, unless otherwise indicated by the court at that time,” Joseph said.
The charge stems from an incident that began about 3:30 p.m. Jan. 2, when authorities responded to report of animal cruelty at a residence in the 4600 block of Hummel Drive in Orcutt.
A man had called 9-1-1 to report that Palacios, his girlfriend, had gone into a home she claimed belonged to her cousin, and was removing paintings from the walls, according to Kelly Hoover, a spokeswoman for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department.
The caller said he witnessed Palacios choking a cat at the residence before stabbing it with a large kitchen knife.
Arriving deputies found Palacios in the yard, detained her and then found the cat dead in a nearby igloo-style doghouse, Hoover said.
Palacios claimed she was acting in self-defense, and that the cat attacked her. Deputies later determined the residence was the home of her ex-boyfriend, and not her cousin, Hoover added.
The knife used in the attack was located under the doghouse covered with blood and cat hair, Hoover said, and deputies found several paintings from the home and other items in Palacios’ car.
Palacios was arrested on charges of burglary and animal cruelty before being transported to a local hospital for treatment of scratches and then to county jail, with bail set at $50,000.
The burglary charge has since been dropped.