Federal Prosecutor Seeks Stiff Sentence for McConnell

The federal prosecutor in the Horse Protection Act (HPA) violation case involving Jackie McConnell has asked the judge deciding the case to impose strict penalties on the high-profile Tennessee Walking Horse trainer. The HPA forbids soring, the deliberate injury to a horse's feet and legs to achieve an exaggerated, high-stepping gait.

In February, a federal grand jury in Tennessee handed down a 52-count indictment accusing McConnell and three other individuals of conspiring to violate the HPA. In May, McConnell pleaded guilty to one conspiracy count under a plea agreement. Under the law, McConnell could face up to five years in prison, probation, and fines. However, McConnell's plea agreement allows for probation, not imprisonment.

On Sept. 6, U.S. Atty. Steven Neff filed a sentencing memorandum asking the court to impose the maximum probation term of five years and a "significant fine" on McConnell. The memorandum also seeks that McConnell be barred from having any contact with horses including training, exhibiting, transporting, or selling, during the entire probation period.

"The recommendation for probation rather than imprisonment does not mean that the United States supports a sentence inadequate to address the seriousness of the crimes with which the defendant was charged or the acts which support the factual basis to which he agreed," Neff's memorandum read. "The United States' position is that a significant sentence to the extent permitted by law, within the confines of the defendant's guilty plea, is both warranted and appropriate given the defendant's long-term defiance of federal law."

McConnell's attorney Tom Greenholtz was unavailable for comment on the sentencing document.

Even though McConnell's plea agreement does not allow for an imprisonment penalty, Doyle Meadows, PhD, chief executive officer of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration said penalties contained in Neff's sentencing memorandum are inadequate.

"As far as we are concerned the only place Jackie McConnell belongs is in a jail cell and it is unfortunate that he is not being prosecuted under the new horse cruelty law," said Meadows in a written statement.

Keith Dane, director of equine protection for the Humane Society of the United States, said that the sentencing memorandum calls for the toughest penalties possible under terms of McConnell's plea agreement.

"I think the government is serious and (Neff) is seeking serious penalties allowed under the guidelines given that jail time is not an option," Dane said. "(The request for strict penalties are) a deterrent and sends a message to other violators."

Meanwhile, Dane said he would like to see federal lawmakers revisit HPA legislation in order to stiffen potential penalties for violators and eliminate other provisions including industry self-regulation.

"There have been flaws (in the law) that have allowed this to continue to happen all these years," Dane said.

McConnell is slated to appear in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Tennessee for a sentencing hearing on Sept. 18, Neff said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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