The state Supreme Court has agreed to review a Court of Appeals ruling that a government contractor can't be prosecuted for the deaths of two chimpanzees and the near-death of a third chimp at a former medical research lab.
Attorney General Gary King had asked the state's highest court to review the ruling, which upheld the dismissal of criminal animal cruelty charges against Charles River Laboratories Inc. and veterinarian Rick Lee.
Charles River manages the Alamogordo Primate Facility, which has about 250 chimps in its care. Lee is the facility's director.
The appeals court ruled in June that New Mexico's animal cruelty law has an exception for the practice of veterinary medicine, and that it applied to the company and to Lee.
District Attorney Scot Key of Alamogordo brought the misdemeanor animal cruelty charges in 2005.
Two injured chimps died in 2002 and 2003 after animal care workers left for the day. Another chimp was close to death after bleeding overnight, but survived after a blood transfusion.
The company had a policy of having security guards on duty after regular business hours, rather than keeping trained animal care workers on the job for sick or injured chimps.
''The state still believes the facility failed to provide adequate care for these animals,'' King said in a statement Thursday.
The Court of Appeals ruling drew fire from public officials, veterinarians, animal rights activists and Jane Goodall, a world famous expert on chimpanzees. They have asked to file legal briefs with the Supreme Court during the appeal; those requests are pending.
''We are pleased that the Supreme Court is willing to hear this case because what Charles River Labs did was indefensible,'' said Heather Greenhood, legislative director of Animal Protection of New Mexico.