Saddlebred Won't be Exhumed--Yet

The recent motion by Sally and Joe Jackson to have Wild Eyed and Wicked exhumed for further investigation was heard today before the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky, and it will be "held in abeyance" pending further information. U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Hood, the presiding judge, said that if he received affidavits from Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw or the veterinarians involved with the case stating that valuable information could be gleaned from the exhumation, then he would reconsider his position. Scott Beeler of Overland Park, Kan., one of the attorneys representing the Jacksons, said they will immediately obtain the documents requested in order to revisit the motion.

Wicked and four other Saddlebreds were injected with a toxic substance in their left forelegs in their stalls at Double "D" Ranch in Versailles, Ky., in late June of 2003. Only two of the victims survived, and the perpetrators are still unidentified. (For background information on the attacks, see This motion hearing is the latest battle of the ongoing litigation between Double "D" Ranch and Sally/Joe Jackson, including a suit brought by Double "D" against the Jacksons (for alleged non-payment of training and boarding fees) and a countersuit filed by the Jacksons against Double "D" (for alleged negligence, misrepresentation, and breach of contract).

The Defendant's Side

In his address to the court, Beeler stated that identifying the substance injected into Wicked could have bearing on the ongoing Kentucky State Police investigation, in particular care, custody, and control issues of the litigation, as well as access to whatever substance might be identified. He noted, "No law enforcement agency has done any test on any samples. We do know this--my clients signed an authorization for the autopsy the day after the horse was buried, but that autopsy never happened. Why not? Several people say it's for various reasons, but there are no test results, no samples--we don't know where they are, if they exist, or what the chain of custody is."

He also stated that Wicked is owned by Sally Jackson, who he said has the right to bury him wherever she chooses. There is no proof, he added, of the alleged agreement between the Jacksons and Double "D" allowing Wicked to be buried at Double "D". However, Beeler said that an affidavit stated that should the Jacksons agree to return Wicked to Double "D", they would agree to the exhumation request.

Beeler added that Shaw has not made the criminal file, which presumably would include the results of any testing on behalf of law enforcement agencies, available. However, he noted that Shaw was quoted in the press last month as saying that "he and others would be interested in learning the results of any new forensic tests performed on the remains."

"We're all here about getting to the truth," he concluded.

The Plaintiff's Side

Bill Rambicure, an attorney for Double "D" Ranch, stated that there was a simple answer as to why his client had not agreed to the exhumation: "They haven't met the burden of showing the need.

"My understanding is that samples were taken almost daily from July 2 (2003) to July 17 and were provided to the Kentucky State Police," he said. "They had all that and had the forelegs of the horse buried the next day (Kiss Me). We believe they had all they needed for testing."

He agreed that neither plaintiff nor defendant had seen any results of tests on the samples, but that some samples had been sent by the police to Cornell University for testing. He added that the samples should still be available. "Have we tried to get them? Before we exhume this horse, we should be going that route," said Rambicure.

He also stated that Wicked's remains were the property of the insurance company that paid the Jacksons on his policy, and thus the Jacksons have no claim to rights on his remains. He added that neither the insurance company nor the Kentucky State Police had asked for an autopsy, so, "We must believe that they have all they need."

Another issue mentioned was media coverage of the intent to file the motion for exhumation nearly a month before it was actually filed. Rambicure said that on June 7, he asked the defendant's counsel what information would be gleaned from exhumation. "We got no response, then they go to the press with the intent to file the motion. Are there any vets here saying there's information to be gained? If they have that, we might change our position."

The Judge's Position

In dealing with the issue of who actually retains ownership of Wicked's remains, Beeler stated that the insurance company assigned all rights back to the Jacksons; Hood said, "Then that takes care of that issue."

In his ruling, Hood stated that he did not want to interfere with an ongoing police investigation. "When you have an affidavit from Shaw that his investigation is concluded and he has no further interest in the remains of the horse, then I'll reconsider this motion. Or if you bring some of these vets in here saying they can get more information from the remains, I'd appreciate it. Right now, all I've got is an ongoing police investigation."

He also requested an affidavit from the veterinarians involved in the case saying that they don't have any samples. "We'll revisit this upon the appropriate findings," he concluded.

What's Next?

"We will immediately obtain the documents requested by the judge," Beeler said after the proceedings. "We'll get the position of the Commonwealth Attorney's office and what information can be gained by exhumation. We've been in contact with several experts in the field."

Rambicure stated that the plaintiffs want to know what tests will be run on the remains, and what they could discover. "Our best understanding right now is that there's nothing to be gained," he said, adding that the Jacksons had once agreed to have Wicked buried at Double "D", then changed their minds. "The have no right to dictate/change terms previously agreed to," he said.

Dena Lopez of Double "D" had no comments in addition to her attorneys' statements, and Joe Jackson echoed Beeler's intent to present the documents requested by Judge Hood for future deliberation on the exhumation motion.

In an interview following the proceedings, Shaw said that exhuming Wicked "won't compromise what we're doing at all. I think there's the potential that it will assist us in our investigation. I can't state as a fact that this is going to benefit us, but if there is a potential of that and they're willing to pursue it and share the results with us, obviously we'll be interested in what they find. If forensics experts are telling them this could be promising, all I can tell you is both the prosecution and Kentucky State Police are open if someone does some testing at a qualified lab with reputable people."

Regarding the question of whether there are samples from the horses in custody, Shaw stated that they had a lot of samples and had not yet exhausted testing on them.

About the Author

Christy M. West

Christy West has a BS in Equine Science from the University of Kentucky, and an MS in Agricultural Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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