"Adria and Andy were simply doing their jobs to euthanize the animals."

That’s Blair Brown — a lawyer for one of two PETA employees on trial for felony animal cruelty — virtually summing up the defense’s strategy during his opening statement yesterday. Brown and the rest of PETA’s legal team don’t deny that the two defendants — Adria Hinkle and Andrew Cook — killed (at least) 31 dogs and kittens in June 2005. They don’t deny that the two threw the dead bodies into a dumpster. And they don’t deny that what Hinkle and Cook did is standard practice for a group that wants constitutional rights for pigs.

The flimsy justification for the pro-animal-rights/pro-animal-killing hypocrisy touted by PETA folks inside and outside the courtroom has been that euthanizing these animals is more humane than keeping them in overcrowded shelters. But that begs the question: If local shelter conditions really are that bad, and the preservation of animal life is PETA’s singular purpose, why didn’t they adopt the animals themselves? Maybe the home they’d provide is less than ideal — but it’s certainly better than being dead.

Then again, when you spend so much of your $25 million budget on tasteless billboards, props for naked protests, and disturbing comic books, there’s probably not much cash left to care for real-live animals.

Other than the mind-blowing hypocrisy of PETA ordering its employees to kill pets, the real stunner so far is how Hinkle and Cook convinced people to hand over the animals in the first place. Today, the local district attorney read into the record this conversation between the Bertie County (NC) Animal Control Officer Barry Anderson and Adria Hinkle — the person suspected of actually killing the animals:

Anderson: "Do you think you can find homes for these animals?"

Hinkle: "Yes. No problem. Absolutely."

Anderson testified today that he was so sure Hinkle would take his shelter’s animals back to Virginia for adoption that he gave her one of his own pets — a dog named "Happy" that he and his wife had trouble housebreaking.

Here’s a full roundup of yesterday’s courtroom drama.

Check out PetaKillsAnimals.com tonight for a synopsis of today’s events.