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Animal rights activist Michael Winikoff is expected to withdraw an appeal of his June conviction today, ending the year-long legal battle surrounding his theft of two rats from a University psychology laboratory last January. Winikoff, a resident of Washington D.C. and an activist in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said last night that he decided to drop the appeal after concluding that he could not get a fair trial in Philadelphia. "In Philadelphia, the University dominates the city, including legal affairs," Winikoff said. "If it was any other city, the University would be on trial." Winikoff's lawyer, Bernard Siegel, said yesterday that the animal rights activist will officially withdraw the appeal for a jury trial this morning at a Center City courthouse. The judge is then expected to reinstate the original verdict of a Philadelphia Municipal Court judge. Siegel said he did not know why Winikoff decided to withdraw the appeal, but emphasized that his client would probably not run the risk of a harsher sentence if convicted again. In June, Municipal Court Judge Lydia Kirkland sentenced Winikoff to 100 hours of community service at any organization that does not deal with animals, and to pay the University a $60 restitution fine -- $30 per rat. Under city laws, all defendants are entitled to a new trial by jury if they wish to appeal the decision of a Municipal Court judge. Winikoff had said last September that he was confident that he would have better chances with a jury than he had with Kirkland. According to his lawyer, Winikoff could have faced a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment and a $1000 fine at the appeals trial. Winikoff stole the rats while he was posing as a lab technician. He claimed that the animals were being neglected after receiving brain surgery. Winikoff said last night that the University has a bad track record of animal abuse. At the time of the original sentencing, Winikoff was an employee of PETA, a Washington D.C.-based animal rights group. Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, could not be reached for comment, but a PETA spokesperson said Winikoff should be praised for his actions.

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