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Joshua Tyler Boyer receives an eight-year prison sentence for torturing and killing at least 10 cats. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Joshua Tyler Boyer receives an eight-year prison sentence for torturing and killing at least 10 cats. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Escondido man sentenced to eight years for torturing, killing cats

ESCONDIDO — An Escondido man who tortured and killed at least 10 cats was sentenced to eight years in state prison on Friday morning at the Vista Courthouse.

Joshua Tyler Boyer, 31, pleaded guilty to 10 felony counts of animal cruelty after law enforcement discovered at least 10 deceased felines in and around a toolshed at his family’s property on Reed Road in Escondido.

Judge Robert J. Kearney denied the defendant’s request for probation and sentenced Boyer to eight years, the prosecution’s requested full term. Boyer was granted credits for time served and will likely serve between three and six years for what prosecutors called one of the worst cases of animal cruelty in San Diego County.

The sentence follows a thorough, multi-agency investigation led by the San Diego Humane Society’s Humane Law Enforcement in collaboration with the Escondido Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

Law enforcement officials started looking into Boyer on May 24, 2019, after a GPS tracker on a missing cat named Leonard eventually led to the “gruesome” discovery of several cats’ remains on his property. 

Investigators found fresh blood and orange hair in Boyer’s toolshed, and Leonard’s GPS tracker collar was located in the backyard of a neighboring property, but his remains were never found. Boyer was not charged with Leonard’s death.

Leonard’s owners, Jeffrey and Liz Johnson, said they were pleased that Boyer would receive the maximum sentence, but they would “never have true closure” until Leonard was found.

“We’re happy that (Boyer’s) going to prison and will be there for as long as possible,” said Liz Johnson. “I hope that when he gets out, he will stop his evil ways, not want to hurt any other living creature for the rest of his life and that he’s learned his lesson. We still don’t know where (Leonard is) buried or where he is. But at least he finally has the justice that he deserves. He’s a hero because, without him, this never would have come to light.”

Leonard’s owners, Jeffrey and Liz Johnson, and other supporters wore “Justice for Leonard” shirts to Joshua Tyler Boyer’s sentencing hearing. Photo courtesy of the San Diego Humane Society.

During the investigation, humane officers discovered Boyer was using social media, claiming to be a military veteran, to gain the trust of pet owners looking to find new homes for their cats. Boyer even adopted two cats from the San Diego Humane Society.

“He preyed on multiple people; he preyed on older people who were going to nursing homes and couldn’t take care of their animals,” Kilamyan said. “He used manipulation and lies to convince these vulnerable people to give him their cats.”

Loretta Bunten said she got to know Boyer personally and trusted him. According to Bunten, Boyer convinced her to rehome her two cats to him for his grandmother, but that was a lie.

“I can’t believe I trusted this man,” Bunten said. “I have to live with the guilt of trusting him and handing my two cats over to him for the rest of my life… He does not get my forgiveness because it was disgusting what he did.”

Another victim, Laurie Pellechio, said she spent time with Boyer before giving him her beloved emotional support cat, Mai Tai.

“I’m concerned about Josh’s future and his role in society moving forward,” Pellechio said.

Boyer’s defense attorney, Gretchen Von Helms, argued for long-term probation instead of prison time, claiming his actions were likely the result of a meth-induced psychosis following the birth of his daughter.

Von Helms said that Boyer’s wife, who was suffering from postpartum depression, had wanted to place the child for adoption against his wishes, which “basically caused him to have a psychotic breakdown.”

“In Boyer’s mind, (his wife) seemed to prefer the company of their cat as opposed to their baby daughter,” Von Helms said. “Because of this, he became severely depressed.”

Joshua Tyler Boyer is handcuffed after receiving an eight-year prison sentence for torturing and killing at least 10 cats. Photo by Samantha Nelson
Joshua Tyler Boyer is handcuffed after receiving an eight-year prison sentence for torturing and killing at least 10 cats. Photo by Samantha Nelson

According to Von Helms, Boyer even sought to commit suicide, allegedly holding a gun to his head in front of his wife while their daughter was away visiting family. At some point, Child Protective Services removed Boyer from the home, causing him to lose his job and move into a toolshed on his family’s Escondido property, where he started to self-medicate.

However, according to Deputy District Attorney Eva Kilamyan, the investigation found Boyer’s behavior, as documented on social media and through phone records, was “full of hate” toward people and animals. Kilamyan disputed Boyer’s attorney’s claims that he was in a drug-induced psychosis, citing instances where Boyer deliberately manipulated individuals to acquire their cats through false pretenses, preying on vulnerable pet owners.

“This wasn’t just a one-time meth-induced moment where he did something crazy that was completely out of character for him,” Kilamyan told the judge. “His own family members said he didn’t like cats; the whole family didn’t really like cats. He had hate in his heart and that’s what he acted with.”

Boyer apologized to the families of his victims, saying he acted out in “stupid ways” after losing his wife and daughter.

“I’ve been an animal lover my whole life; I’ve always said that I preferred animals over people, not that there’s anything wrong with people,” Boyer said. “It’s literally the biggest regret I’ll ever have. I’m extremely sorry for all the people whose pets I have hurt. I know how it feels to lose a pet; it’s one of the worst things.”

Boyer asked the judge for probation so that he could continue to work and send money for his daughter’s care, noting that regardless of the sentence, his actions would haunt him for the rest of his life.

“I understand this is going to follow me for the rest of my life,” Boyer said. “It’s an atrocity what I’ve done, and currently I can only ask for forgiveness from those whose pets I harmed.”

Loretta Bunten and Liz Johnson speak to reporters during the sentencing of Joshua Tyler Boyer, who pleaded guilty to killing at least 10 cats that belonged to Bunten, Johnson and others. Photo by Samantha Nelson

Kilamyan called Boyer a sociopath and suggested his crimes were similar to those of serial killer Ted Bundy, who started by tormenting dogs and cats, and Parkland High School shooter Nikolas Cruz, who would torture and kill chickens, squirrels, lizards and other animals.

“This is a very dangerous man,” Kilamyan said.

After hearing of his heinous acts, which included burning cats, piercing them with needles, shooting them with BB guns and arrows, electrocuting them, mutilating them and leaving them out while trapped to suffer in the heat without food or water, the judge said he was concerned about Boyer’s “risk to society now and in the future.”

“Mr. Boyer, these acts are extremely disturbing,” Kearney said. “What you have going for you, the steps you’ve taken in the interim, the addiction you’ve addressed and the counsel you received – if you continue to do these things, there is a good chance you won’t come back into the criminal justice system, but that’s going to be on you. I hope you continue to get help and live a productive life.”

The San Diego Humane Society encourages anyone who suspects animal cruelty or neglect in their neighborhood to report it to the agency by calling 619-299-7012. The Humane Society also encourages community members not to use unverified online platforms when rehoming their pets and suggests visiting for vetted rehoming resources.

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