On Friday, after nearly six hours of deliberation, two animal rights activists facing misdemeanor theft charges were acquitted by a California jury. The alleged crime — which the activists freely admitted to — involved taking two sick, slaughter-bound chickens from Foster Farms, one of the biggest poultry companies in the US. Prosecutors called it stealing, but the defendants, Alicia Santurio and Alexandra Paul, both members of the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE), called it a rescue.

Santurio and Paul (the latter a former Baywatch actress and longtime social justice activist) had taken the chickens from a truck outside a Foster Farms slaughterhouse in Livingston, California, in September 2021. According to Foster Farms, the animals were each worth $8.16, though the defendants still faced up to six months in jail if convicted. But unlike most criminal defendants, Santurio and Paul welcomed the prosecution — they refused multiple plea deals, including one that came with no jail time and would’ve eventually cleared the charge from their records.

The chickens’ rescue followed a 2021 hidden-camera investigation (conducted by a separate DxE activist) at the same slaughterhouse, which drew attention to the appalling cruelty of poultry slaughter. When the birds — whom the activists named Ethan and Jax — were removed from the slaughter truck by Santurio and Paul, they were both severely ill and struggled to stand. (Many factory-farmed chickens have been bred to grow extremely big extremely fast, and by the time they reach slaughter weight at six weeks old, their legs often can’t support their weight.) Ethan died four days after the rescue, while Jax recovered after intensive veterinary care and now lives on a farm sanctuary.

The defense argued that they weren’t breaking the law because Ethan and Jax were in such terrible shape when they arrived at the slaughterhouse that they were unfit for the food supply, making them worthless to Foster Farms. Both birds had multiple illnesses, and a veterinarian testified for the defense that Ethan’s necropsy showed he had Enterococcus faecium, a multidrug-resistant bacterial infection that can infect and kill humans and which has been linked to the chicken industry.

Read the full article about the fight against factory farming by Marina Bolotnikova at Vox.